Busing off to a smooth start
With a month of student deliveries under its belt after starting a new school year in September, First Student Transportation staff are settling in with their bus routes. Tecumseh Public Schools contracts with First Student Transportation for all its student busing to and from school, along with some additional events.
“This year was probably the smoothest start we’ve had in the past six years,” said First Student Director, Sue Dieter. “We keep improving what we’re doing, planning ahead, and working to get good involvement from the district. We share information back and forth and it gets better and better, so I think that makes for a smoother start.”
Another factor, said Dieter, is the excellent support the administrators and driving staff get from the bus maintenance department, which keeps the fleet of 25 buses operational. Mechanic Tim Scheffler is a one-man show at the First Student facility in Tecumseh on Maumee Street.
“Tim recently achieved the Gold Wrench Award through a company initiative that was put into place to improve maintenance for all our fleets and to help shop managers become more cost-efficient, more time efficient, and to produce better quality preventive maintenance and repairs in the process,” said Dieter. “The Gold Wrench Award is the highest level of excellence.”
Scheffler, who said he isn’t looking for attention for his accomplishment, has worked for First Student for 13 years, and was employed as a truck mechanic for Scheffler Trucking in Clinton and in the construction field prior to that. He obtained a degree from the University of Northwestern Ohio and keeps several certifications current.
He said First Student’s initiative to improve shop management is a progression, from a Bronze award, to a Silver award, and then the Gold Wrench. Mechanics working on the buses clock in with a work order in much the same way a dealership tracks labor time on a job.
“You have to work your way up the different steps,” Scheffler said. One target of the plan is to have a clean shop, getting rid of obsolete parts and keeping on hand only what will be used within a short time. He admits that was a challenge for him, because the First Student vehicles aren’t all one chassis or body style, but a mix. “It would actually be easier if they were all the same, because then we wouldn’t have to keep all the different parts around.”
Scheffler said Tecumseh’s newest buses are 2006 models, and 10 of them arrived when another company facility closed. First Student also has older buses, but replaces them every 12 years. Even the older buses are in great shape, Scheffler said, and he can back it up. First Student has received a 100 percent in annual inspections from the Michigan State Police for several consecutive years, using a checklist that has more than 200 items on it.
“They’re changing some of the rules this year, but I think we’ll be all right,” he said, adding that word has it there may be a more aggressive tagging process. Buses can receive a red tag that puts it out of commission until the “failed” item is repaired, a yellow tag for lesser infractions that can include a small cut in a seat, or a “pass.” “It never hurts to have another set of eyes on the bus, we always say,” he said.
Besides time in the preventive maintenance and repair area of the shop, Scheffler also has to spend time in his office, ordering parts and doing his own bookwork, mostly on the computer. He has less face-to-face contact with the drivers than mechanics of the past with the advent of new technologies. Drivers now use a Zonar electronic handheld wand while doing a pre-trip inspection of the bus. They wave the wand at specified “buttons” on the bus, and after the information is sent to Scheffler’s computer, he can tell which area of the bus needs attention.
“I kind of miss talking to the drivers, but it’s quicker this way and easier to scan the information than do the paperwork by hand,” he said. He does get shop help from Kim Johnson, a school bus driver hired to assist with washing buses and repairing seats.
“We have a lot of seat repairs,” Scheffler said. He also sometimes helps at other First Student facilities at the company’s request. But mostly, he’s on his own. “It won’t get done if I don’t do it,” he said.
Scheffler said overall, he enjoys maintaining the district’s buses and working for First Student, and he especially likes one component of the job: the set hours.
“When I worked my other jobs, I’d leave in the dark and come home in the dark, even in summer,” he said. “That was hard. Now I’m able to be home with my family and be there for my two sons.”