Kevin Clifford got his start in the school transportation industry more than 50 years ago, cleaning buses for his parents' bus operations.
After college and a stint in the Marines, Clifford began learning the ins and outs of school bus contracting, and he was soon named president of the family business. Under his leadership, Huntington Coach Corp. expanded and acquired other companies, eventually becoming one of the 20 largest contractor fleets in the country.
Clifford has a passion for saving money for school districts and for increasing the role of contractors in pupil transportation. He constantly lobbies for private sector causes in his state and in Washington, D.C.
For his tireless efforts, Clifford was named SCHOOL BUS FLEET's 44th Contractor of the Year. Publisher Frank Di Giacomo presented the award at the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) Annual Meeting and Convention in Baltimore in July.
Huntington Coach Corp., which is based in Huntington Station, N.Y., is the main school bus contractor for 10 school districts on Long Island. The company prides itself on maintaining long-term relationships with its customers — four of the districts have contracted with the company for more than 50 years.
Clifford, who became president of Huntington Coach Corp. in 1969, has led an aggressive growth and acquisition policy. When he took the reins, the company's fleet had fewer than 100 vehicles. It now runs close to 900 school buses, transporting about 25,000 students daily.
Clifford has managed to convert several school districts to privatized transportation service — most recently, the Manhasset School District in 2005. The company reports saving that district more than $1 million per year.
"Kevin has always been passionate about growing the contractor presence in the school bus industry," says Bob Pape, who has known Clifford for some 40 years. Pape was a longtime administrator for Lawrence Public Schools on Long Island before becoming a partner with Clifford in Dell Transportation, which is based in Port Washington.
Clifford has also made a point of developing secondary uses for his operations' buses, such as shuttling shoppers and senior groups, in order to run as efficiently as possible.
In 1974, Clifford acquired Roy K. Davis Bus, which became a subsidiary of Huntington Coach Corp. K&S Transportation was purchased in 1988. And in 2000, the Huntington Coach LLC division was formed.
Also part of the Huntington Coach Corp. family is Hendrickson Bus Corp. Clifford's parents bought Hendrickson Bus and Huntington Coach — with a combined fleet of 32 buses — in 1955 from Howard Schenck, who also owned Schenck Transportation.
Schenck had taken over Hendrickson Bus and Huntington Coach only two years earlier. Before that, Huntington Coach was owned and founded in 1927 by the Dempsey family as a public transit company, although its roots dated back to the 1870s, when the Huntington Coach stagecoach operated along New York Ave. in Huntington.
One of Huntington Coach Corp.'s hallmarks is its maintenance program. Vice President and General Manager Kevin Kalberer developed the program and built up a top-notch maintenance staff, and their success has been repeatedly recognized.
The New York State Department of Transportation has in numerous years honored Huntington Coach Corp. for having the best inspection record in the state in the extra-large company category. In 2004, the company was named one of SBF's Top 10 Maintenance Programs.
Additionally, all seven of Huntington Coach Corp.'s bus yards have attained NSTA's Green School Bus Fleet certification, an EPA-approved program that is based on such factors as use of emissions-reducing technology, idle-reduction policies and efficient routing.
Clifford has long been a vital member of NSTA and the New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA). He has served on the board of directors of both groups and has been president of NYSBCA.
The state association has also honored Clifford with its own Contractor of the Year award. NSTA has given him the Golden Merit award and has inducted him into its Hall of Fame.
For both associations, Clifford serves on government relations committees, and he takes their causes to lawmakers in Albany and D.C.
"We constantly face over-regulation in an industry where we already do a stellar job," Clifford says, also citing unfair competition from federally funded transit agencies as a key issue.
Since Clifford's parents, James and Dorothy Clifford, acquired Huntington Coach and Hendrickson Bus more than 50 years ago, the company has remained a family affair. Clifford's son Brendan now serves as vice president of operations.
Clifford and his wife, Renee, enjoy splitting their time between Huntington and Sarasota, Fla. And they have 14 grandchildren who could get into the business some day.