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Computers utilized to keep track of students.

More to industry than meets the eye

There is more to operating a fleet of school buses than buying a few buses and adhering to the Public Vehicles Act.

Joe Palangio, operations manager with Deluxe Coach Lines of North Bay, the school bus branch of Palangio Enterprises, says operators must be competent at bus maintenance and always know when, where and into whose care each student is to arrive.

Deluxe Coach Lines has computerized in order to keep track of student pick-up and delivery which, according to Palangio, can become quite complicated.

For example, he notes that children sometimes have to be dropped off at day care rather than at home. In some cases when child custody is involved, the driver must make sure the child is dropped off into the hands of the right parent.

Palangio recalls that prior to the mid-1970s the school bus business was highly competitive and, as a result, many operators were undercapitalizing their fleets in order to remain competitive. His company's 13 one-year-old buses remained parked one year because of unsuccessful contract bids.

The operators have since formed an association and have hammered out a common pricing formula. While there is no guaranteed territory, most public and separate school boards will likely stay with one operator unless they have problems with the company.

"You have a contract, and that contract is only as good as your relationship with the school board," Palangio says.

However, the competition stiffens when it comes to school charters. Schools will often compare prices, and bus companies can become involved in price wars.

Palangio says he remains competitive in this business by keeping in touch with the coaches of high school teams in order to find out how the teams are doing in competition.

DRIVERS SOUGHT

Finding, training and holding on to drivers is one of the industry's greatest challenges, according to Palangio. His company operates 65 buses and has trained 17 drivers since August.

Because bus driving is a part-time job, Palangio looks for new drivers among retired people, small business owners and homemakers. The majority of his company's drivers are women.

In order to operate a bus a driver must have a 'B' licence for a full-sized bus or an 'E' licence for a 15- to 24-passenger bus.

Operators such as Deluxe Coach Lines are required to provide training in defensive driving and air-brake operation, when required. Palangio has invested in several videos to assist in the training process.

INSPECTIONS

Diane Guenette, manager of Nipissing Bus Lines Ltd. in Sturgeon Falls, says drivers must also be able to inspect their vehicles for any defects.

Nipissing Bus Lines' drivers keep a daily log detailing the condition of their buses.

Meanwhile, the provincial Ministry of Transportation conducts facility audits on the bus companies to see that they are operating within the terms and conditions of their licences. Ministry staff inspect the buses two or three times per year, examining approximately 40 items, including steering, undercarriage, lights and doors.

MAINTENANCE

Maintenance is a major expense for bus operators. Deluxe Bus Lines, for example, has just built a new facility for its four licensed mechanics and body man. The company does all of its own mechanical work.

The smaller Nipissing Bus Lines does much of its own work, but sends out the big jobs. The company buys buses from Elgin Ont., with Bluebird bodies on International chassis.

"After eight years a bus is getting tired," says Guenette. The fleet has to be constantly upgraded. Older buses go on the short runs, while the newer buses are put on the longer ones.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Transportation Report; school bus services
Author:Smith, Marjie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:599
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