BROOMFIELD, Colo. — With the snow-capped Rocky Mountains looming in the distance, a group of school bus operators and suppliers gathered here this week to scale a range of imposing issues facing the industry at the 2016 School Bus eXchange (SBX).
The second edition of the event, held by the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and School Bus Fleet, took place Monday through Wednesday at the Omni Interlocken Hotel outside of Denver.
About 30 public and private school transportation officials from around the country were selected to attend this year’s SBX. They met with each other and with representatives of more than two dozen companies that offer school buses or related equipment.
During a series of roundtables, attendees were presented with questions on such topics as alternative fuels, school bus driver recruitment and retention, federal regulations, fleet replacement, and budget management. As they discussed those issues, they wrote key points with markers on paper tablecloths.
Many participants gave input on their experiences with school bus driver shortage, which has been a top challenge for the industry in recent years. Some emphasized the importance of recognizing good drivers to boost retention. Ideas on that front included awards, cash incentives, departmental picnics, and safety competitions.
“We’re giving our drivers nice jackets for perfect attendance,” said Monica Coburn, transportation director for Indianapolis Public Schools. Illegal passing of school buses emerged as another top challenge. Roundtable participants discussed the effectiveness of stop-arm cameras, public awareness campaigns, and other efforts to combat the problem.
At one table, attendees shared tips for enhancing the public's understanding of school bus transportation, including attending community events, using social media, holding Love the Bus celebrations, and making use of materials from the American School Bus Council.
Another key SBX activity was one-on-one consultations. School bus operators had scheduled time to meet with suppliers. The format fostered discussions of how the suppliers’ products or services might be able to help with the specific challenges that the operators are experiencing.
Attendees also got to take a tour of the transportation facility at local district Adams 12 Five Star Schools. The state-of-the-art building has a variety of features to reduce energy use, such as extra insulation, numerous skylights, and heated shop floors. The $20 million facility, which the Adams 12 transportation team moved into in 2010, replaced an outdated and outgrown building that was built in 1969.
More coverage of SBX will appear in the June issue of School Bus Fleet.