FREDERICK, Md. — A maintenance shop at a school district here has put a more proactive procedure in place to catch issues with school buses and correct them quicker, reducing downtime.
Mechanics at Frederick County Public Schools’ transportation department started using what they call the School Bus Courtesy Check on Sept. 5, the first day of school, said Mark Maggitti, fleet maintenance manager for the district.
With 430 school buses in the fleet, a small shop with limited parking space serving a large county, and about 70% of the district’s buses being parked offsite at 26 different locations, it is critical to maximize every maintenance opportunity and reduce unnecessary trips to the shop, he explained.
“We have buses that typically are domiciled 20 or 30 minutes away from the shop, so it’s not very efficient for the driver to bring that bus back into the shop.”
Additionally, many buses have had a lot of repeat visits to the shop due to other, unrelated problems being identified after the initial visit. The courtesy check helps mechanics find and repair defects that were not reported by the driver or potential problems that may result in a future breakdown.
“I used to get buses in the shop for engine diagnostic issues, and then two or three weeks later, the bus might come back because it had torn seats or a heater wasn’t working or something completely unrelated to the original problem,” Maggitti said.
Now, every time a bus comes to the shop for any type of service, a mechanic completes the School Bus Courtesy Check worksheet before the bus is returned to the driver. For example, if a bus is in the shop for engine diagnostics, mechanics also check the lights, tires, brakes, seats, heaters, etc., before putting the bus back in service.
The checklist employs a system designed to be easy to understand, using the colors green, yellow, and red to rate the items checked. Green items are “good,” yellow are “fair,” and red items are considered “poor,” and will be repaired before the bus is returned to service.
Mechanics take 10 to 15 more minutes to do a thorough visual inspection of the entire bus to avoid repeat visits. So far, mechanics have found and fixed damaged seats and heaters that weren’t working.
When finished conducting the check, the mechanic leaves the completed sheet on the driver’s seat to make sure that the driver sees it and is aware of any items that may be ranked as fair. It also makes the driver aware of any issues that were identified and corrected, and “closes the loop” with drivers, he added.
Maggitti and Fred Punturiero, the director of transportation for the district, had discussed the concept at the end of the last school year, and two mechanics developed the checklist and the color-based strategy to quickly identify the degree of seriousness of each issue the shop came across.
Just like before, the shop relies on the drivers to do their pre-trip inspections, with the checklist serving as a backup.
“The drivers are very diligent with their pre-trip and every little issue, [but] it’s another set of eyes to catch anything,” Maggitti said.
Bus drivers have reported to their managers that they appreciate the extra service that the shop provides, he added.
The courtesy check is not only designed to increase efficiency, but safety as well.
The mechanics have since revised the courtesy check to go beyond the step listed as “check tires” to include checking tire pressure, tread depth, and looking for irregular wear and loose lug nuts.
“It’s not just walking around, kicking the tires like we used to do,” Maggitti said. “That’s probably one of the most important items on the courtesy check.”
“We want to make sure the bus is not leaving here with bald tires, brakes that are worn down, or anything that could potentially be a problem on the road.”
The School Bus Courtesy Check worksheet is available here.