Aaron Silverman remembers lengthy school bus rides when he was a child in Pennsylvania.
“I lived at the furthest reaches of the school district and had to ride transfer buses to elementary,” he recalls. “Needless to say, I wasn’t too fond of being on the bus since the rides were so long.”
Now, Silverman’s the president of Pittsburgh’s ABC Transit, with a fleet of about 470 vehicles serving school districts in western Pennsylvania. Contractors like Silverman comprise the backbone of a well-coordinated system that ensures the safe and efficient transportation of students. ABC Transit is marking its 10th anniversary under his leadership this year.
“Even through growth, Aaron maintains that ‘Mom and Pop’ feel that is so important to the staff (office, mechanics, drivers),” says Angelo Caputo, transportation services coordinator for Hilliard City Schools. “Not only is he always on alert for new technology, he is driving a bus with the rest of the staff most of the time.”
For his efforts in contracted student transportation, School Bus Fleet has selected Silverman as Contractor of the Year for 2023.
Married to the Wheel
It wasn’t necessarily in Silverman’s blood, this career shuttling children from home to school and back again aboard the familiar yellow behemoths.
In high school and while attending Geneva College, he started working construction jobs with his father.
“I bought my first dump truck, skid loader, and trailer when I was 15, so I was pretty sure that was going to be my career work,” he says.
But then he met Casey, the daughter of Bill Roenigk. She would eventually become Silverman’s wife. Bill, who at the time was vice president of school bus contractor W.L. Roenigk Inc., asked him to join the operation.
“Everyone in his family, including my wife, worked for the bus company,” Silverman says. “After a few years of working part-time for him, and him relentlessly wearing me down, I started in the school bus business full-time as a mechanic.”
In 2013, after the passing of his father-in-law, Silverman bought a struggling MIL Transit “to take what I learned from him and start my own bus company.”
He built up ABC Transit with his team with a mix of school bus brands and an injection of technology, including interior and exterior cameras, GPS for mapping, speed, and vehicle data, stop-arm camera systems, and stability control systems.
“Our expansion success has come from focusing on improving service, safety initiatives, and efficiencies,” he says. “We specialize in focusing on safety first, all other items second. I’m proud to tell anyone interested in our service to call any of our superintendents, knowing that a supportive recommendation will come from each. Having the confidence of our clients is most important to me.”
Driven by Passion for School Bus Challenges and Solutions
No two days are alike – and for Silverman, that’s how it should be.
“You think you’ve seen it all until something happens that you haven’t experienced before,” he says. “Thankfully, I have a great team of managers with decades of experience to handle our many challenges and surprises.”
The unexpected twists in the route of a day give him much to anticipate.
“I love that every day is where it takes you,” Silverman says. “No matter how you structure your day, something will come up to alter your plans. I guess I’ve always thrived on challenges, and the surprises we get in the transportation business definitely create organized chaos on certain days.”
Like so many operations, ABC Transit struggles to put drivers behind the wheel – and keep them there. But Silverman reports that they don’t have it too bad.
“We are doing as well as we have been since the (COVID-19) pandemic, but are still not 100%,” he says. “We are still healing from driver losses, as most contractors are. Our biggest challenge has been peak-time sports charters, but our districts have been flexible, creative, and great to work with us to get each covered. I do drive, if needed, to help make sure our trips are covered each day.”
Appreciate School Transportation Fleet Professionals
He does his best to ensure drivers and mechanics working for ABC Transit know that they’re appreciated and supported.
“This business can be way more demanding than anyone realizes, and our people sometimes just want to be thanked,” Silverman says. “We try to let everyone know personally how much they are appreciated at our back-to-school luncheons, Christmas parties, end-of-year cookouts and other driver appreciation events.”
For the 10th anniversary of ABC Transit, he’s planning the cookout and a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game at PNC Park.
“Over 400 people are coming to the game on bus shuttles from our seven locations,” he says. “Whether a big or small recognition, letting them know how important they are to the company’s success helps maintain morale.”
His advice for someone considering a career as a school bus contractor?
“I would tell them it is a never-ending responsibility to transport children safely each day, but one of the most rewarding experiences I have had,” Silverman says. “Knowing my drivers provide safe passage to and from school to over 25,000 students each day makes it all worth it. And for a new contractor to always remember, even with a driver shortage – you may need drivers bad, but you don’t need bad drivers.”