Industry Vendor Debates Seatbelts

Jordan Puckett weighed in on the seat belt topic on April 11, 2017, in his article titled, “Should our buses have seat belts, both sides of the ongoing debate.”

His article oversimplifies the pros and cons of seatbelt use. He first states, “while this may at first seem like a no brainer ‘yes we should’ answer, many disagree.”

If it were a simple matter, there wouldn’t be a debate and no one would be disagreeing.

He cites the following “pros” to installing seatbelts:

• Educate students: installing seat belts gives our students training in consistent seatbelt use

• Prevent unsafe bus lawsuits: installing seatbelts could eliminate lawsuits filed for “unsafe” buses

• Improve student behavior: installing seatbelts would keep kids in their seats and bad behavior would disappear

• Eliminate student ejection in crashes: installing seat belts will keep students inside the bus during a collision

• Increase parental confidence in the yellow school bus: installing seat belts will give parents more confidence in transportation systems

• Keep students fixed in their locations: installing seat belts – even lap belts – will help keep students from sliding around the bus seat

Puckett makes assumptions about the safety improvements offered by seat belts. Using them to educate students, manage their behavior, and making their parents feel good are all good things if seat belts do not cause harm to students. The same is true about potential lawsuits: if the seat belts themselves cause harm, we are going to be sued anyway.

We have, as an industry, done much to prevent ejection. The way we construct the seating compartment (aka the chassis) has made it far less likely that there will be any openings even in a very serious crash.

His final point, that even a lap-belts-only system could improve the overall passenger experience by keeping students fixed in their seating location instead of sliding across the seats, is erroneous. We know that lap belts cause harm to young students. We know that internal damage to their less-protected abdomens and internal organs increases with the use of lap belts. We have proven in multiple studies that the only product we want to approve as an industry is a three-point harness, because studies have indicated that in some crashes, three-point harnesses could improve student safety. The problem is that until we install them in a large number of vehicles and use our students as crash test dummies, we cannot be certain our tests are accurate. I’m not a fan of using our students as crash test dummies.

Puckett made the opposing case too. He points out the reasons we may have to argue against installing seat belts. I refute each of his points directly following the bullet point:

• Seat belts are expensive. The cost of the bus and all of its safety enhancements are passed on to the consumer. No one within the industry, not private contractors or school districts, assumes the cost of the seat belts; it is, in fact, paid for by American taxpayers. Also, the cost of a student’s life is immeasurable. No one who has experienced a traumatic crash would use this point as an argument against seat belts.

• School buses are already very safe because they travel below or right at the speed limit and the seating compartment is above the impact point of most vehicles. Buses travel at high speeds, and even at low speeds some crashes are serious. Trusting that they all travel below or right at the speed limit is making a fairly ridiculous assumption.

The point about the seating compartment being high off the ground, above the level of impact in most crashes, is very valid, and part of a sound case against installing seat belts in school buses.

• Installed seat belts could cause difficulty extracting students if there were a fire. (Of course, he fails to mention water.) There are very few cases of school bus fire, and they become more rare as the vehicle standards improve nationally, and as bus inspectors get better at correcting flaws in the mechanical operation before it becomes an issue.

• Students may or may not actually use the seat belts. So much for making the point that we will be educating students on consistent, life-time use of seatbelts by installing them, at great expense to taxpayers.

Drivers would necessarily have to be exempted from any regulation requiring them to enforce the use of seat belts, just like school administration would have to treat misuse or non-use as a punishable infraction.

• Puckett wonders what would happen when more students tried to fit in a seat than there were seat belts. This is a more serious issue than just a point in an argument opposing seat belts. Each bus would have to have the number of seat belts as the bus is (nationally) regulated to carry. Some states allow students to stand – again, a more serious issue than this article addresses. If seat belts improve student safety, every student needs to have one.

I find it perplexing that this article was referenced by an industry publication. The online link redirects the reader to a website for school transportation-related products, so it seems to be more of an advertising ploy than a valid article about seat belts.

Seat belts? Well, that topic is definitely not disappearing from industry conversations any time soon.

Plans Underway for Annual Driver Training

We have been doing our annual driving training in a one-on-one setting for the last few years so we would have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with each driver.

We’re shaking things up this year.

On August 20, 2013, we are going to run two sessions.  The first begins at 8:00 am and runs until 1:00 pm, and the second begins at 12:00 and runs until 4:00 pm.  Each of the two sessions will be identical; it’s up to bus drivers which option to choose.

We’re going to set up a bunch of booths and training stations in the parking lot.  Drivers will be paired in groups of two or three and will be assigned a starting point and assigned a path.  They will collect a token at each booth, and will be able to enter a drawing for a marvelous (REALLY MARVELOUS) grand prize drawing at the end of the day.

So far we have planned the following stations (a minimum of twelve stations will be set up and a maximum of twenty-five), and have contacted a few area vendors and businesses to (we hope!) get a few unique learning opportunities for our staff:

  • Jami will meet with the small team of drivers to give them their routes and Opening Day information packets.  She will update them with some staffing changes made over the summer.
  • A trainer will demonstrate several different versions of our No Child Left Behind Devices, wheelchair securement, and miscellaneous items relating to pre- and post-trip inspections.  EACH driver will have a chance to secure a wheelchair.
  • A local expert will observe drivers securing car seats, vests, and other restraint devices, and will make corrections where necessary.
  • Shelley will have packets of annual forms, including tax and employment forms, DOT forms, personal information updates, and MVR reviews.  She will also be handing out revisions of three important publications we haven’t revised for five years.
  • A local business will offer chair massages and health and wellness information.
  • A local health expert will offer information about dealing with common special circumstances, like choking, seizures, epipens, and general student information.
  • Matt will offer a mirror adjustment clinic so EACH driver will learn about adjusting mirrors in an unfamiliar bus for the proper positioning to minimize blind spots.
The list is already exciting, but the final five spots haven’t been confirmed yet.  I guarantee they will top off the list in STYLE and SUBSTANCE!

We’ve also contacted a local food vendor to create a fantastic menu so the morning attendees can end their day with a meal and the afternoon attendees can begin their session with a meal.  We’re hoping that creates an opportunity to introduce new employees and perhaps some school administrators and staff.  

We have started working on contacting some local businesses who might be interested in providing some coupons or giveaways for our BUS DRIVER GOODIE BAGS, which are always a big hit and which generate some extra business in our community.
This should be a fun event and a great kick-off to the school year.  
Y’all should stop in for a peek.
Safe Driving!

On Managing Transportation, Part 2

On Monday, I wrote about this month’s School Transportation News topics.  First, they highlight what challenges Transportation Directors face.  Second, they outline what makes a GREAT Transportation Director.

Monday’s article focused on the challenges.  Today’s post is about how they define a GREAT Transportation Director.  
Here at our company, there is not a single Transportation Director, but a Transportation Crew, including our Superintendent, Joe, Jami, me, and our support staffs.  For the record, I’m including how I think we’re doing at each point.  Feel free to add your comments! 🙂
GREAT Transportation Directors:
    1. Have great communication skills.
      Thumbs up.  We are able to communicate on many levels with many different groups of people, from the students and parents, to the tenth grade driver’s ed students, to our drivers.
    2. Have industry knowledge, studying regulations, best practices, district policies, and more, including knowing how to expertly do a wide range of tasks.
      Another thumbs up.  We work really hard to know the latest information.  Sometimes that information comes from YOU, our drivers and community. We work hard to do more than just maintain buses and plan routes, and  most often the expertise we use is found under our roof.
    3. Focus on safety.
      Thumbs up.  It’s the first thing that motivates every decision we make.
    4. Are dedicated.
      Yup, thumbs up!  We work long and hard hours when we must in order to get the best possible result for the most people.
    5. Have integration skills.
      I wouldn’t give this one a thumbs down, but I’m not going with a thumbs up either.  I think we have trouble during certain seasons creating a good balance between each of the various tasks we do (for example, August labor is highly dedicated exclusively to routing).  That’s why we took apart all the things we do this summer and redesigned how every aspect of our company is managed.  We won’t be able to fully assess the success of our redesign until next summer.  I have high hopes.
    6. Are flexible.
      Thumbs up for our relationship with the school district, staff, parents, and students.  Thumbs down for employee interaction, but I don’t see that changing.  I believe we need to spend more time explaining why we are saying “no” to certain requests or why we insist on certain behaviors, but a fair amount of inflexibility is required to maintain high levels of service.
    7. Focuses on students.
      Thumbs up.  Just remember that we focus on students in general, not specifically.  This is a mass transportation program, so we focus on what – collectively – is best for students.  That’s not the same as focusing individually.
    8. Pays attention to detail.
      Thumbs up.  Some might say obsessively so.  Still, I think we keep the big picture in view as well.
    9. Has problem-solving skills.
      Two thumbs up!  We have solved some humdingers!  And done it within twenty-four hours.  Trust me, there is never a dull moment.
    10. Has clarity.
      Thumbs up.  We focus first on our priorities:  SAFE, EFFICIENT, COST-EFFECTIVE transportation.  Then we strive for excellence.  Finally, we work hard to be kind and caring in our decision-making.
    11. Acts on feedback.
      Thumbs up.  We listen to people who offer feedback.  If it’s good, we share it with those affected.  If it’s bad, we investigate and come up with a solution (see #9).
    12. Is responsible.
      Thumbs up.  Each person listed by name has willing and loudly taken responsibility for mistakes and miscalculations.  What’s more, we take responsibility for the people who share our work with us.  When questioned about a driver’s behavior, my immediate response is first to apologize, and then to explain how we are going to address or fix the problem.
    13. Thinks ahead.
      Thumbs up!  I think most people get afraid when they hear me say, “I have an idea!”  We are always thinking about next week, next month, and next year.  People who visit our office at various times will see our poster boards where we keep notes about “WHAT CAN BE BETTER NEXT YEAR?”  We make new ones every year during the various routing processes, and we look at them before we start those jobs in the subsequent year.  It’s a good, if less than sophisticated, practice.
    14. Has a servant’s heart.
      Two thumbs up!!  We can offer many examples of pure and dedicated service.  But often acts of service are better left between the servant and the served.
    15. Keeps learning.
      Thumbs up.  There are times when I recognize the magnitude of what we do and that the actions we take today can result in the loss of a student’s life tomorrow.  That could be overwhelming.  Rather than wearing the responsibility as a burden, we focus on learning to be better every single day. 
    16. Has an eye for talent.
      Thumbs up.  We can find the right people.  You can tell by looking at the people in key positions in the office, shop, and behind the wheels of the various vehicles.
    17. Leads.
      Thumbs up.  “‘Leadership in this sense is a broad term to encompass integrity, commitment to your people and your mission, and the ability to know your stuff, your people, and yourself,’ says Grant Reppert of Gwinnett County Public Schools in Lawrenceville, Ga.  ‘This is why people are willing to trust and follow the direction and guidance you provide.'”
    18. Knows and uses the Three Cs:  Compassion to listen to others.
    19. Knows and uses the Three Cs:  Confidence to make tough decisions.
    20. Knows and uses the Three Cs:  Courage to stand alone behind the decisions.
      We listen, we make tough decisions, we stand behind them.  I’m not giving the thumbs up just yet.  
    21. Has heart.
      Thumbs up.  Our decisions affect people, and we need to think about the effects. 
    22. Has a thick skin.
      Two thumbs up!  We are cussed, ridiculed, belittled, and bullied.  And it doesn’t matter.  We believe in what we do, and we stand by it.  It helps that we stand as a team and not as a single person.  
    23. Delegates wisely.
      Thumbs up.  We are getting good at using the right person’s talents to achieve the right successes.  
    24. Uses negotiation skills.
      Thumbs up.  
    25. Is dependable.
      Thumbs up.  We have Joe available 24/7, in most cases.  We have checks and balances in place.  We have the right people in the right positions.  Those things create dependability.
    26. Is willing to get down in the trenches.
      Thumbs up.  We drive, ride, clean the toilets…  There is no job that we leave unfinished because of a job title or status.  
    27. Has business acumen.
      Thumbs up.  All of us have learned so much about business while going through some tough times!  And during those tough times, we’ve learned to trust and rely on each other and support staff.  So, our business will continue to grow and we will keep it healthy, even when it requires tough decision-making.
    28. Embraces challenges.
      Thumbs up.  We get overwhelmed, but we don’t stop working.  In fact, we laugh more the harder things get.  We’ve learned the best way to get through the toughest challenges is to share them with each other and look at the problem from more than one direction and with different sets of eyes and points of view.
    29. Thinks about the “Big Picture.”
      Thumbs up.  
    30. Is determined.
      Thumbs up.  We are determined to be prepared at all times for even the most unexpected events.  We are determined that our staff will be kind, caring, and excellent.  We are determined to get the job done every day.
    31. Networks.
      Thumbs up.  We belong to local networking organizations like the Monticello Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce.  We attend community events and relevant industry events.  We talk to people and listen to their stories.  
    32. Follows-up.
      Thumbs up.  We have a rule that emails and voice mails need to be answered within hours, and, for the most part, everyone follows the rule.
    33. Follows-through.
      Thumbs up.  We follow-through by communicating with drivers and letting parents know what’s going on.  Sometimes, our best-laid plans for some of the non-route training and scheduling go awry because we are so very short-staffed.  We’re working on a plan designed to keep our training schedule on schedule.  
    34. Is accessible.
      Thumbs up, most of the time.  We try to always have at least one person available to both employees and customers, but it’s a bigger challenge in late August and early September.  
    35. Gets the facts.
      I think we are better at fact-collecting than ever before, and I’m tempted to give us the thumbs up.  I think we could be better at making sure we get the facts from all sides of an issue before reacting.  I’m glad this was part of the list; it gives us a new goal!
    36. Is organized.
      Thumbs up!  Says Colleen Murphy (in STN), “Everything has its place, and either at the beginning or end of each day… you need to straighten up the piles and put what you can away.  We deal with so many items that are time- and safety-sensitive that not keeping good records will destroy your entire operation.”  And, that, my friends, is why we have developed our Very Important Paper Box, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we did to reorganize our company this summer.
    37. Empowers employees.
      Thumbs almost up.  I would have thought we had this one nailed, until an incident occurred on a bus that scared another employee who was riding along.  Had I been riding and a driver made an error that was a near-miss, I would have removed him from the seat, and driven the bus myself.  Every professional driver here should feel the same way.  It’s about our students’ safety and not at all about whose toes get trampled.  We’re going to work on this.
    38. Has a calm demeanor.
      Thumbs down overall.  We tend to get excited, and there is always the buzz of excited energy traveling the corridors of this building.  I think, though, that most often in serious circumstances we have more than a calm demeanor.  We have an innate sense of confidence in what we do that lends itself to professionally handling tense or emergency situations.  We’re going to work on this one too.
    39. Is patient.
      For everyone, that’s a big thumbs up.  For me, it’s a big thumbs down.  I really admire patience in people since it’s a quality I rarely bring forth.  
    40. Is fair.
      Two thumbs up!  We work really hard to be consistent and in most cases are successful.  We aren’t perfect, and our decisions are subject to approval from a variety of sources, but we do try to always err on the side of consistency.
    41. Gives credit.
      Thumbs up.
    42. Is decisive.
      Thumbs up.  Says Michael Dallessandro of Niagara Wheatfield CSD in Niagra Falls, NY, “Often a decision has to be made, and there is not much time to do it since our buses are often ‘moving’ while they are awaiting an answer.”
    43. Is visible.
      Thumbs up.  You see us throughout the day, at the various school sites, and – sometimes – on the streets observing.  
    44. Is creative.
      Thumbs up.  We do really cool and creative stuff to make things work for people.  
    45. Is consistent.
      Thumbs up up up!  See #40.
    46. Is positive.
      Thumbs up, most of the time.  We need a plan to keep things positive when we’re feeling the burden of the workload.  We have some ideas to put into play next year…
    47. Has a sense of direction.
      Thumbs up.  We know where things are and know where to look when we don’t.  And we don’t just trust a map to tell us where things are;  we go look.
    48. Is honest.
      Thumbs up.  We’ve shared hard things with our employees and our school administration.  It’s always been the right choice to be forthright.  
    49. Has high ethical standards.
      Thumbs up.  We work really hard to do the right things all the time for the most people, and we never try to circumvent a regulation, law, rule, or policy.  And we have earned trust and respect for those efforts.  We will maintain high ethical standards as long as we stay in business.
    50. Is involved in the community.
      We try to do as much as we can for kids.  Through our membership in the Chamber of Commerce, we plan to participate in more events we didn’t even know about prior to joining (what a great resource!).  We’re looking forward to those new and exciting events in our very own community. 

After this article posts, bus drivers will have an assignment to read and comment on the article.  We won’t hide any posts, so check back to see what the people who work here think about the article and our self-assessment.

    Safe driving!

    On Managing Transportation, Part 1

    The latest issue of my favorite industry magazine, School Bus Fleet, contains an in-depth article about the challenges faced by Transportation Directors (TDs) and focuses on what makes a great TD.

    In an earlier blogpost, I found a comment by an employee in which she wondered what it was like to be managing transportation rather than driving a school bus, so I thought I’d share some highlights of the articles.
    This article is a great summary of input received by TDs across the country, and mirrors our own experience.  The magazine offered a survey for TDs to complete, and the majority of responders were companies/school districts our size or smaller.
    After listing the concern and the percentage of responders who chose it, I offer commentary comparing it to our own experience:
    1. Budget/Funding Issues (21.7%)
      This is, clearly, our biggest issue in Monticello.
    2. Driver Recruitment/Retention (18%)
      I have personally not driven this often in years.  We would benefit from a few more quality drivers.
    3. Student Behavior (9%)
      While I would not put this quite so high on the list, I would include it for the distraction factor it offers to bus drivers, and the danger that driver distraction offers to students.
    4. Maintaining Service Level (6.3%)
      We have an exceptional level of service, and are one of the few companies that can honestly state we have never missed a route.  Not once in sixty-five years.  That’s rare.  It IS tough to maintain a solid service level when there is a driver shortage, so this is definitely on our list.
    5. Personnel Issues (5.3%)
      Just when I think I’ve heard it all, a driver will do something that disproves my conviction that things can’t get any more strange.  Personnel Issues, and the things facing people in their private lives, are of great concern.
    6. Driver Absenteeism (4.2%)
      I might actually move this one up the list to #3.  I regularly fail to understand why there is so much absenteeism when there are a mere 174 days of work, and there is a gap between routes.  I believe I have written many, many times the same statement:  “Come to work!”
    7. Routing/Scheduling (3.7%)
      Creating routes that meet all the criteria for safe routes while meeting parent demands can be stressful, especially when parents hold us accountable for things beyond our control, like what the law requires in relation to transportation (for example, the law only allows transportation to and from home or daycare, and that means the bus isn’t available for homework dates, rides to and from places of employment, or sleepovers/birthday parties).
    8. Bus/Equipment Replacement (3.7%)
      It’s tough to plan to replace buses and equipment when the budget is constantly under fire and when the cost of fuel is skyrocketing.  When all the money goes in the fuel tank…
    9. School/Parent Needs (3.2%)
      We discuss this frequently in group settings.  Suffice it to say that parents are very demanding!  They can also be mildly abusive and completely offensive.  However, this year I’ve heard more parents being thankful and praising drivers and our company for dedicated and thorough service.  Keep up the good work!
    10. Homeless Transportation (3.2%)
      The needs for homeless student transportation is on the rise.  In Minnesota, a student whose family becomes homeless deserves a ride to his or her regular school with his or her usual friends.  This attempt to create stability for students in unstable circumstances is noble — but difficult to manage.  There is no distance rule.  And the “three-days to provide transportation” is also non-existent; these homeless students are guaranteed a ride the very next day.
    11. Special-Needs Transportation (3.2%)
      Special-needs transportation is more labor-intensive than most other kinds of transportation and requires unique individuals to serve as drivers and monitors.  It can be stressful to manage all the unique students and student needs, but we feel like we provide excellent service to our most vulnerable students because we believe in the people behind the wheel.
    The only thing I would add to the list, and it probably never would have appeared on a national survey, is that we often work with people who live in this community with us and attend the same churches, shop at the same grocery stores, attend entertainment at the same local establishments, and socialize in the same environments.  That can make it tough to be “bosses” at times.  
    The same is true of our customers, which can make it tough to say “no” to special requests, or to make the student discipline call.  We handle those things best by creating policies to manage the situations instead of trying to manage people.
    On Thursday, I will post a summary of what constitutes “Great Transportation Directors” according to School Bus Fleet magazine.  Bet you can’t wait!
    Safe Driving!

    A Day In the Life of a Route Driver

    So this week, I am a route driver.

    I’ve been a route driver periodically during my lifetime in the bus business.  
    To tell the truth, I’ve forgotten what it means to be a route driver.
    Subbing is one kind of stressful thing.  Route driving is a different kind of stress.  I find that if I don’t sub or drive a route periodically, I forget the stressors.
    Not the obvious ones, of course.  It’s always stressful to deal with loading and unloading kids and worrying about people failing to obey the stop arm.  It’s always important to manage student behavior – and tough to predict in what way student management skills will be tested.  It’s also tricky to function in troubling traffic situations.  Those things affect all drivers.
    When subbing a route, knowing where to go and what to expect creates a new stressor.  As the person responsible for planning and choosing bus stops, I have additional stress when I find out that drivers are doing things they ought not.  Trust me when I say, we work on that problem EVERY DAY!  Sub drivers often have to explain to parents why they are there, why they are not perfectly on schedule, and where the regular driver is.
    When driving a route permanently, there are additional responsibilities.  I have to KNOW my students. I have to KNOW my route (following a route map/instructions after a couple days is NOT okay).  I have to BE ON TIME at ALL TIMES.  I have to be accountable to the people meeting the bus, whether parents or school staff.  I have to be presentable, efficient, professional, and happy at all times. I have to forget the other things calling my attention, and focus solely on driving the route.  I have to plan my seating arrangement, and deal with change requests from parents.  I have to be driver, friend, parent, responsible adult, nurse – and not get too involved in inappropriate ways with my students.  And I need to do all this – and this is particular to me – knowing I will not continue to be the route driver;  I have to prepare my students for their new driver too.
    Yes, route driving is a different ball of wax.  I’m so very, very glad I get to do it now and then.
    Safe driving!

    Yes, Folks, It’s a Theory

    Before the start of the year, we send home a bunch of information about bus routes, including bus stop times.

    I hate sending those times.  They are never perfect – in fact, not even close.  And there’s no way to make them perfect.

    The problem isn’t with the software, and it’s not that we’re morons.  The problem is that we have no way of predicting which kids will be slow to load, which ones will be fast to load, which ones will show up every day, and which ones have a seat reserved, but never ride the bus.  We cannot predict which neighborhoods will have bizarre traffic and parking situations or which ones will have a random construction project.  We cannot predict which students will be clueless about where their bus stop is or which ones will insist they should get an extra stop along the path of the route.  We cannot predict who will be new to the district, and – more surprising – who will disappear to parts unknown without letting anyone know.

    So, the bottom line is, the bus information is a theory.  An educated, thoughtful theory, but imperfect as a guarantee schedule of arrival and departure times from bus stops.

    How can we tell what time a bus will be at a bus stop?

    We send the buses out with our best theoretical plan and run the routes for five days.  On the sixth, the buses will have established when they will be at their stops.  The time they arrive/depart next week will be the time they will arrive all year long.  That time is the actual scheduled time.  We will not send another 4,000 letters home.  We just expect families to understand and know that this is the way things work.

    The perfectionist in me really hates that, but it is practical and it does bear out our experience for the last sixty-five years.

    And when a parent calls next February and says the bus has been late every single day this year, and that it has been coming exactly ten minutes later than the letter said all year long, I try to remember that not everyone has sixty-five years experience with mass transportation systems.  To me, the measure of successful routing is that the bus comes at exactly the same time every day from September through February.

    Safe driving!

    The New Practice for High School Students

    We have a new transportation policy for high school students.

    Each spring, we will start the next year’s routing by eliminating tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students from the routes.

    We will ask for input from those students and/or their parents about who will still need a bus ride and reinstate their privilege to ride the bus immediately.

    Then we will commence creating routes, using what we believe to be the number of students riding the bus.

    Why make a change?  Why include tenth grade students when many cannot yet drive?

    We have good reasons!

    First, there are not very many students who use the bus regularly beyond ninth grade.  Many students have after-school activities and older siblings and friends who drive.

    Second, it is extremely difficult to get information from parents about the use of the school bus.  Many are worried that if they don’t sign-up for a bus ride, they won’t be able to get one EVER.  The truth is, it is extremely easy to add a student back to the route, and only takes us a few minutes.  So a parent could call any time during the year and have a bus ride for their student the next day.

    Third, we do not want to add school buses and the additional expense to the routing system when we don’t yet need to do so.

    This is the first year we’ve attempted to use this new practice.  I printed the letters and brought them to the schools to be sent home with report cards, something I thought most parents would be excited to read.  We got responses from a number of students, so I thought that method of communication had been effective.

    We sent another letter with bus information on it about ten days ago, noting that changes would be suspended effective August 27.

    Then, worried that we might not have great addresses for everyone or that some people might not read through the letter and understand the new practice, I called the Superintendent and expressed my concern.  He had a great solution – he would be able to use their new mass communication technology to call every family and remind them to make sure bus information was up to date.  We got more responses after that, and well within the time frame to make adjustments to buses.

    Some parents are upset about not having time to reinstate their students’ rides, and we certainly understand that concern.  But every student we add changes the time slightly (each student has a pre-set “loading time” of a few seconds in the software) and also adds one more rider to very full buses.  My greatest worry is that those people who responded in a timely fashion might not have a seat if we continue to add later registrants to the bus route.  And it’s far too late to change buses around or change which developments are paired because, again, there’s no way to communicate that to the people who responded in a timely fashion.

    I think we have a good solution for next year, though.  I’ve asked whether it would be possible to use some classroom time next spring to have students complete a bus registration form during the school day.  We will be able to present their current information to them, and then ask them the following questions:

    Will you ride the bus:

    1. every morning?
    2. every afternoon?
    3. never?
    4. only between sports seasons?
    5. only if your car breaks?
    6. only occasionally?

    Will you need a different bus stop?

    THEN we’ll send home letters with the report cards.

    I think that might be a good solution.

    Safe Driving!

    Next Week’s Lunch Plan

    Every year for the last several, we have been offering our bus drivers and helpers lunch during the first week and a day of school.

    It’s been successful!

    During our Healthy Workplace initiatives, we started offering a healthy morning breakfast consisting of apples and bananas.  Our employees really enjoy the bananas.  This year we are adding individual serving sizes of raisins and nuts too.  A driver with good training, a good night’s sleep, and a good morning breakfast is a better driver, and we’re happy to promote driver health.

    Our lunch menu’s aren’t quite as healthy as our breakfasts, but they do accomplish the goal of feeding people who can experience increased stress and tension during the first week of school.  The full-time staff also appreciates the opportunity to catch a bite when it’s too busy to get out of the office.

    This year’s menu is complete and the bus driver’s first online assignment will be to stop at the blog, review the menu, and RSVP.

    Here’s the good(ie)s!

    2012-13 Free Breakfast Menu
    Apples and Bananas, Raisins, and Nuts
    First Week of 2012-2013 Free Lunch Menu
    Tuesday, September 4
    Pizza Party
    Fruit & Veggie Tray
    Wednesday, September 5
    Make-Your-Own Sandwiches with Chips
    Fruit Tray
    Thursday, September 6
    Rancho Grande Caters!
    Chicken & Beef Tacos
    Beans, Rice, and Chips with Salsa
    Friday, September 7
    Make-Your-Own Sandwiches with Chips
    Monday, September 10
    KFC Chicken and Fries
    Fruit & Veggie Tray

    The Final Count-Down

    Every year we are surprised by the “busy-ness” of August at a Transportation Company.  And every year we try a little harder to be better at what we do.

    This year, we’re suspending transportation registration changes on August 27 (not 24th as originally intended), and resuming routing changes on September 10.  I wrote about this last week, and explained why were doing such an insane and unnatural thing.  I really believe it is going to IMPROVE our customer service by taking that short break from routing changes.

    Behind-the-scenes we do other things to help things flow smoothly.  Keeping ahead of all the special things we do to make the first week of school successful is tricky – especially when we want to keep doing the things that worked well and stop doing the things that were a waste of time or some other resource.  One of our favorite programs we use is a perpetual electronic calendar.  We enter the annual jobs we want to keep doing and save links to various document files we need to complete those jobs.  The calendar reminds us each year when we need to do all those things.  Still, in the final count-down, we resort to the old fashion paper-and-pencil daily count-down lists to keep us on task.

    For the next nine days, we will certainly be busy perfecting routes, training drivers and teaching them their routes, and all the usual daily business required to run our taxis, operate our storage facility, manage our car rental business, and perform maintenance for our customers and fleet.

    As I look at this year’s final count-down sheets, I am pleased at what we have already accomplished this year and the time we have left to complete the work before the first day of school.  We are well on our way to what promises to be one of the best starts ever.

    I am greatly satisfied by the quality of our staff.  The willingness of each person to “get the job done” is a blessing and boon to our company.  And I am greatly thankful that as they do their jobs and complete their pieces of our company puzzle, I hear the recurring, happy laughter echoing through the hallways.

    This is a happy, happy place.

    Safe driving!

    Registration Suspends August 27, 2012

    For the past three years we’ve been able to track transportation data related to how bus routes change and how frequently we make route changes. 

    It’s a good tool for friendly competitions among staff.

    More important, it helps us understand why the letters we send home are inaccurate by the first week of school.

    For the three years in question, we have made more than 2000 changes to our database between open house and the first day of school.  The actual average is 2,234 changes.  Though some of those changes are not related to factors that affect time, many of them do affect schedules.

    Without doubt, those routes that change by ten or fifteen minutes change because we allow 2,234 people to make changes to routes.  We should not have to make those changes in the week before the start of school.  We send home letters in the spring, again in August, and again at Open House.  We ask simply that parents make the changes earlier rather than later.

    This year, we are trying something new.  We are suspending registration on August 27, one week after letters are mailed to families.  We will make all requested changes by close of business on August 27, giving us sufficient time to print and sort new bus schedules to hand out at Open Houses. You will be welcome to contact us about changes, but we will not be making those changes until the week of September 10.

    Our hope is by suspending registration on August 27, we will have accurate bus schedule information in parents’ and students’ hands at Open House.  Our second goal is to have accurate bus routes in the hands of our bus drivers one week prior to the start of school so they have time to practice.

    Keep in mind that our bus schedule letters are something more like an educated and studied theory of what we expect will happen the first week of school.  If we didn’t have human variables involved in the process, those theories would be pretty accurate.  It’s difficult for a computer program, or even live, experienced routing staff, to predict certain things about bus routes.  For example, which stops will be fast to load and which ones will be slower?  Where will we encounter heavier traffic?  Where will nature delay us?  How will the little portions of construction affect routes?  Which drivers will function more efficiently with students on the bus?  Those bus schedule letters are not a guarantee or plan for the entire school year.  After the first week of school, the buses will have settled into their regular routine accounting for all those questions I just listed.  Once the bus has settled into that new routine, you should expect the bus to come at that time for most of the school year.  We do not send new letters containing that information.  However, we invite you to call if you have a time question.

    Safe Driving!