The prevailing attitude at Childhood Development Services (CDS) in Ocala, Fla., is “We’re here for the children and not for each other,” says Neal Beard, transportation and facilities coordinator. As one of the first Head Start programs to service both Citrus and Marion counties, CDS knows well the level of commitment expected from the communities it serves. Beard helps ensure that the service is consistent.

CDS’ transportation program began in 1996. The program employs nine full-time drivers and operates a fleet of 30 vehicles, 11 of which are 22-passenger, Type A buses. Decisions such as procuring buses with safety belts installed and requiring a bus monitor for each bus have allowed the department to stay ahead of transportation regulations like 45 CFR Part 1310.

With no dispatch, CDS relies on Nextel cell phones to communicate with drivers. Routing is done through the Delorean Mapping System, which adjusts whenever there’s a change in ridership. The program demands a level of flexibility, which the staff at CDS welcomes.

Support community involvement
As access to transportation is limited at CDS, parental involvement with transportation decisions is imperative. “The parents have been a big help,” says Beard. “We tell them at the beginning, ‘If you don’t really need transportation, then please don’t take a seat from someone who does.’” When practicality fails, Beard relies on his parent transportation committee. “The parent transportation committee helps us write procedures and establish bus rules and regulations,” he says. At times the committee is able to establish protocol faster than the transportation department.

CDS also prides itself with volunteering its vehicles to assist public service workers with mass evacuations.

Hire the best
Applicants for driver positions at CDS must be over the age of 21 and have a CDL, Class B driver’s license and at least six months of driving experience. There’s a team interview where the potential driver receives scores for field knowledge and skills, and a thorough background check and screening. Drug testing takes place after hire along with a physical exam. Driver pay starts at $8.50 per hour.

Turnover at CDS is low. The average driver has been with the program for five to seven years.

“My first bus monitor, Ed Curtis, started the transportation program with me in ‘96 and is now my facilities supervisor,” says Beard, former safety supervisor for a road trucking company. Curtis, previously a bus driver and part-time maintenance man, has been with the company for 10 years.

Train to excel
CDS drivers safely transport approximately 320 students daily for an annual mileage total of about 74,500 miles.

Beard credits CDS’ frequent driver training sessions for its excellent safety record. “We do safety trainings in the classrooms at least three times a year and evacuation drills with the children at least four times a year,” says Beard. Although CDS doesn’t transport children to and from school at each of its sites, at different times of the year each child will ride a bus for a field trip or some other purpose. Therefore, every child at CDS participates in safety drills.

CDS contracts with the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) for its driver training programs. “New drivers are required to do the pre-service program before they can drive for us. It’s the same for bus monitors,” says Beard. The program averages about 40 hours of driver training. The success of the training has been phenomenal.

“In the eight or nine years that we’ve been operating, we’ve never had a child seriously hurt,” says Beard. “I think the worse case we’ve had is a scraped knee.”

Maintain your fleet
Vehicle maintenance at CDS is an overall group effort. The program does not employ a staff of mechanics. A maintenance man performs small jobs such as changing light bulbs, wipers and other small items, but the rest is contracted out to Britts Automotive in Ocala. Oil changes, lube jobs and filters take place at a local Texaco shop. Drivers have the work performed and bring back receipts for record keeping. The Texaco lube shop also has a car wash where CDS buses are cleaned weekly. CDS has a mixed fleet of 30 vehicles, including buses manufactured by Mid Bus, U.S. Bus, Blue Bird and Thomas Built Buses.

“We have two vehicles with over 120,000 miles,” says Beard. “And we have yet to have a major mechanical problem.”