In the pupil transportation business, the challenges are many and not far between.

School bus drivers deal with unruly kids, sometimes unrulier parents, aggressive motorists and other difficulties on their routes.

Technicians often have their hands full in keeping up with maintenance on aging buses while keeping up with technological advances on new buses.

Directors and others in the transportation office have to stay on top of phone calls, e-mails and paperwork while making sure that the buses are getting the students where they need to go.

For transportation directors and other managers, it takes a wide variety of characteristics and skills to tackle the many challenges and run a successful operation. That’s the message that comes through loud and clear in our new “50 Top Traits of Great Transportation Directors” feature.

For that feature, we asked transportation directors to choose the traits they’ve found to be most important in their line of work. This brings to mind a related question: What are the top challenges they face in the job?

We asked directors about that, too, in the questionnaire for our 2012 School District Survey. Here are the most frequently cited challenges, along with the percentage of respondents who identified each:

1. Budget/funding issues — 21.7%
2. Driver recruitment/retention — 18%
3. Student behavior — 9%
4. Maintaining service level — 6.3%
5. Personnel issues — 5.3%
6. Driver absenteeism — 4.2%
7. Routing/scheduling — 3.7%
(tie) Bus/equipment replacement — 3.7%
9. School/parent needs — 3.2%
(tie) Special-needs transportation — 3.2%
(tie) Homeless transportation — 3.2%

Other challenges cited by some of the transportation directors include district growth, morale, maintenance and time management. The list goes on.

It should come as no surprise that budget/funding was the most commonly identified top challenge for transportation directors. In recent years, school districts across the nation have been contending with severe budget cuts.

In many cases, this has led to transportation service cuts, such as increasing walking distances for students or eliminating routes. Also, many districts have been forced to delay bus replacement and run older buses longer.

A comment from Lennie Goff, director of transportation for Regional School Unit 18 in Oakland, Maine, illustrates the significance of the budget crisis.
Goff’s top challenge is “dealing with the dire economic situations and trying to maintain the service that we presently provide. For the first time in my 25 years, I’m considering elimination of services, [which] I didn’t think I would ever consider.”

Al Karam, director of transportation for Bethlehem Central School District in Delmar, N.Y., puts it this way: “My biggest challenge is the budget. Transportation is now more than ever in the crosshairs of those looking to reduce the cost of education.”

In a related challenge, Karam lost his fleet maintenance supervisor due to budget cuts, so he now has to wear that hat as well.

He says that the added fleet maintenance role “takes 90% of my day, which leaves me very little time if any to take care of my drivers, office problems or give due diligence to my responsibilities as the overall director.”

Clearly, the job of transportation director is not getting any easier. It takes people with a healthy supply of those “Top Traits” — maybe even all 50 — to lead transportation departments through these challenging times.