Take a trip back to meet the past 10 School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year Award recipients - and then nominate your choice for 2024! - Source: Canva

Take a trip back to meet the past 10 School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year Award recipients - and then nominate your choice for 2024!

Source: Canva

School bus contractor fleets aren't merely transportation providers; they're lifelines, ensuring students reach their classrooms safely and reliably. In this article, we look back over the past decade's recipients of the School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year Award. We find a tapestry of dedication, innovation, and unwavering commitment to service.

From Denis Gallagher's visionary leadership at Student Transportation Inc. to Aaron Silverman's transformative impact at ABC Transit, each honoree exemplifies the ethos of excellence that defines this award. Their stories aren’t just about running successful businesses; they're about safeguarding communities, fostering educational access, and prioritizing the well-being of students and staff alike.

As we reflect on these remarkable journeys, we're reminded of the profound influence school bus contractor fleets wield in shaping the educational experience. They aim to ensure that no child is left behind, regardless of challenges or circumstances.

Who’s next? Nominate the 2024 School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year and be part of a tradition that honors excellence, innovation, and service in education's vital transportation network.

2014: Denis Gallagher of Student Transportation Inc.

Denis Gallagher, honored with the 2014 Contractor of the Year award, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Student Transportation Inc. (STI), Gallagher oversaw the company's growth into one of North America's leading school bus contracting firms. His approach, centered on employee welfare and customer satisfaction, was pivotal to STI's success.

With a background deeply rooted in the family business, Gallagher's strategic initiatives, notably the 'A-B-C' method of acquisition, bid, and conversion, have aided STI's expansion while prioritizing community engagement. Under his leadership, STI has embraced innovation, incorporating alternative fuels, and advanced technologies for improved safety and efficiency.

Gallagher's emphasis on fostering employee morale and cultivating strong customer relationships reflects his commitment to industry excellence.

2015: Riley Williams of B.R. Williams Inc.

Riley Williams, a man of remarkable business acumen and unwavering dedication, forged a legacy in the pupil transportation industry. Starting with little knowledge of school buses in 1975, Williams inherited his family's contracting business after his father's sudden passing. Despite his initial unfamiliarity, Williams swiftly adapted, leveraging his sharp instincts and a deep commitment to service.

Throughout his career, Williams prioritized the safety and well-being of the students and families he served, earning their trust and respect. His tireless efforts led to him becoming the 48th School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year, posthumously awarded following his passing in June 2015.

Under Williams' leadership, B.R. Williams Inc. flourished from a modest eight-bus operation to a fleet of 180 buses, serving more than a dozen districts in New Jersey. Beyond business success, Williams made significant contributions to industry associations, fostering collaboration and advocating for the betterment of the field.

Moreover, Williams's philanthropic endeavors, including initiatives like the Stuff the Bus campaign for Hurricane Sandy relief and participation in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, underscored his commitment to giving back to the community.

2016: Robert (Bob) Hach of Sunrise Transportation

Robert (Bob) Hach, a distinguished leader in the school bus transportation sector, has been recognized for his unwavering commitment to safety and employee welfare. With a career spanning decades, Hach's leadership roles have ranged from leading Laidlaw Education Services to president and CEO of Sunrise Transportation in Crestwood, Ill.

Hach's leadership philosophy emphasized putting people first, epitomizing servant leadership principles. His approach, regardless of company size, prioritized strong morale among staff, resulting in high contract renewal rates and operational success.

Hach's legacy underscored the importance of valuing employees, fostering strong customer relationships, and ensuring the safe transport of children to school.

2017: John Corrado of Suffolk Transportation Service

Starting in 1988, John Corrado observed flaws in the system where contracts were solely awarded based on cost, leading to subpar service providers winning bids. Determined to change this, he, along with John Corr of The Trans Group, advocated for the implementation of request for proposals (RFP) laws in New York state. This shift allowed districts to consider factors beyond cost, such as safety, service quality, and reliability, in selecting contractors.

Corrado's commitment to safety and excellence went beyond advocacy. As president of Suffolk Transportation Service, he implemented stringent security measures and provided vital transportation aid during crises like Hurricane Sandy and the September 11 terrorist attacks. Throughout his tenure, Corrado's leadership has been instrumental in shaping a safer and more efficient landscape for student transportation, leaving a legacy of dedication and innovation in the industry.

2018: Michael Tornabe of Logan Bus Co.

Michael Tornabe, a seasoned entrepreneur, transitioned to the school bus industry when he joined Logan Bus Co. in 2003. Despite lacking prior experience in the field, Tornabe's dedication and work ethic led to exponential growth for the company.

Over 15 years, Logan Bus Co. expanded from 700 to 2,550 buses, serving 55,000 students daily and earning a spot on School Bus Fleet's top contractors list. Tornabe's commitment extended beyond business success, emphasizing personal connections with staff and exceeding contractual obligations. Renowned for his involvement in the community, Tornabe supported various charities and organizations, including the Queens Boys & Girls Club, the Navy SEAL Foundation, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

His philanthropic efforts extended to providing aid during emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, showcasing his dedication to both business excellence and community welfare.

2019: Michael Wagner of Lakeview Bus Lines

Michael Wagner's journey in education and pupil transportation began in the Chicagoland area, transitioning from a special-education teacher to the Dean of Students before venturing into transportation with Cook-Illinois Corp. in 1978. Rising through the ranks to become a senior executive vice president, Wagner dedicated himself to enhancing student transportation, particularly for special-needs students, at a time when standards were lacking.

Notably, he contributed to developing the first national standard for wheelchair-bound student transportation and initiated an annual conference on the topic. Wagner's commitment extended to supporting small bus companies, aiding their growth and fostering relationships within the industry.

Joining Lakeview Bus Lines in 2007, Wagner significantly expanded the company's operations while maintaining a remarkable driver retention rate through fostering a supportive work environment. Beyond his professional endeavors, he championed disability causes, serving on various boards and supporting organizations like the Special Olympics.

2020: Charlie Bruce of National Express

Charlie Bruce, the recipient of the 2020 School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year Award, epitomizes leadership excellence and team-building prowess in the pupil transportation industry. With a career spanning nearly four decades, Bruce's journey from his family's farm to executive roles at major transportation companies showcases his dedication and adaptability. His tenure at National Express highlighted his commitment to fostering growth and safety. He retired in 2023.

Bruce's leadership philosophy, rooted in surrounding oneself with skilled individuals, propelled him to success. His strategic approach to team assembly led to significant company expansions and acquisitions. Notably, Bruce's expertise extended beyond sales; he actively advocated for safe transportation practices and served on industry boards. His community engagement, from environmental initiatives to supporting special-needs students, reflected his holistic approach to service.

In navigating the challenges posed by COVID-19, Bruce was focused on addressing uncertainties while ensuring the safety of students and drivers. His resilience and proactive mindset underscored his enduring impact on the pupil transportation landscape.

2021: Paul Vellani of VAT Inc.

Paul Vellani, president of Ohio's VAT Inc., embodied an innovative approach to safe student transportation, earning him the School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year Award in 2021.

His journey within the family business, established by his father, John, nearly 40 years ago, reflected a commitment to growth and adaptation. Vellani's career began unconventionally, exploring entrepreneurial ventures before joining VAT full-time.

His leadership steered the company through challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, showcasing a dedication to finding solutions and prioritizing student safety. Vellani's hands-on approach and emphasis on personal connections have cultivated enduring partnerships with clients like Columbus City Schools.

Despite industry shifts and pandemic setbacks, VAT thrived under Vellani's leadership.

2022: Jacob Iverson of Harlow’s Bus Service

Jacob Iverson, a seasoned figure in Oregon's pupil transportation industry, has more than two decades of dedicated service.

His leadership extends across various associations, including the Idaho Association of Pupil Transportation and national counterparts. Since 2014, Iverson has spearheaded Harlow’s Bus Service in Bismarck, North Dakota, including as its senior vice president.

Managing a fleet of nearly 600 vehicles, he emphasizes the transformative role of each school bus as an extension of the classroom.

In 2022, School Bus Fleet honored Iverson as Contractor of the Year, recognizing his unwavering commitment and servant leadership philosophy.

Under his stewardship, Harlow’s flourished, fostering enduring partnerships, notably with Bismarck Public Schools.

Despite industry challenges such as supply chain disruptions and driver shortages, Iverson remained resolute in his pursuit of excellence, advocating for continuous improvement and emphasizing the importance of proactive, customer-centric strategies.

2023: Aaron Silverman of ABC Transit

Aaron Silverman's journey from reluctant school bus rider to president of Pittsburgh's ABC Transit embodies the essence of dedication and transformation.

Recipient of the 2023 Contractor of the Year Award, Silverman's career trajectory defied expectations. Initially drawn to construction, he pivoted into the bus industry at the urging of his father-in-law, Bill Roenigk. Following Roenigk's passing, Silverman revitalized MIL Transit and founded ABC Transit in 2013, emphasizing safety and efficiency.

Under his leadership, ABC Transit thrived, boasting a fleet of 470 vehicles serving western Pennsylvania school districts. Silverman's committed to maintaining a familial atmosphere within the company while embracing technological advancements. Despite challenges, such as driver shortages exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Silverman remained resolute in his dedication to safe student transportation.

His advocacy for driver appreciation and morale-building events demonstrated his understanding of the invaluable role employees play.

Continue the Legacy of Excellence in Student Transportation

As we bring this journey through a decade of school bus fleet excellence to a close, it's clear that these leaders aren't just driving buses; they're steering communities towards brighter futures. From Denis Gallagher's innovative strategies to Aaron Silverman's commitment to safety, each honoree has left an enduring mark on the education landscape.

But this isn't just a trip down memory lane; it's a call to action. The hunt is on for the next hero of the school bus world, the one who will carry the torch forward into the next chapter of student transportation greatness. So, dear readers, it's up to you to make it happen. Nominate the 2024 School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year and let's keep the wheels of excellence turning in education's crucial transportation network.

About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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