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!

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