School Bus Fleet

July 2014

A management & maintenance magazine for school transportation fleets

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Page 27 of 61

26 S C H O O L B U S F L E E T • J U L Y 2 0 1 4 er comfort. Today we are seeing cus- tomers taking another step in that by asking for better driver seats, forego- ing the static seats for mechanical sus- pension seats — really thinking about that driver compartment, the amount of time someone's there, what that means in terms of fatigue, and ulti- mately what that means in terms of safety for the children and the driver. That could also be related to the issue of driver shortage, because if drivers aren't comfortable, districts are going to have a harder time retaining them. Exactly. The other thing we're seeing is a lot more customers embracing LED lighting packages. With LED lights, customers see lower maintenance costs and decreased stop reaction time for buses making stops. We've seen some of our largest customers introduce all- LED lights into their feets this year. That's a relatively new change. The other thing that we continue to see is school bus customers integrating new aftermarket technologies on their buses, from cameras to GPS-enabled tracking systems. There's a number of new technologies that weren't here fve years ago, and I really think it's where the industry has moved and is moving. I've been in the industry for a while. Initially we used to always think about safety in terms of the product, and I don't want to minimize that. The way the school bus is structured, the roll- over technology and testing, the side intrusion — all of that is incredibly im- portant. But I think we've done that so well that now it's a given. Parents, com- munities and, as a result, school boards and districts are thinking about safety in terms of how we manage a student from the time they get picked up in the morning until they get delivered home. Where are they in that route, and what ever, as those older buses naturally need more support. For us, we think of that as an opportunity. Our dealer net- work we believe is our greatest asset, and I know that to be true. Not only do we have more than 290 IC Bus dealer locations, behind that we have over 700 International truck locations that are there to support our school buses and the school bus industry. So this whole idea of longer life cycle, the reliance on more parts and service, and support at a school district and contractor lev- el just really fts in our business model and our go-to-market strategy. The other thing I think everybody's seeing is that alternative fuels have a stronger presence in the school bus market than they've ever had. Some of these technologies long term are very promising, but I think it's still impor- tant at this time to keep it in perspec- tive. They still just represent 1% of all the C and D school buses on the road today. So the majority, 99%, are die- sel products. Diesel is the backbone of our industry, and that's not going to change anytime soon. Are there any big differences in how customers are spec'ing school buses now compared to, say, fve years ago? I think so. We've seen a couple things. With the budget constraints and what that entails, people become more eff- cient. I think that and other things have driven the increase of the Type C bus in relation to the Type D. In 2008, 18% of school buses built were the transit- style, Type D buses. Today, that's only 13%, and it continues to decline. I think that's a result of people going to a Type C bus for more commonality in their feet. We look at that chassis, specifcal- ly our Type C chassis, how robust that is, and we talk about longer life cycles — I think that's all a natural outcome of the industry demands and pressures. We've also seen a shift toward more automotive-like features in our buses. We've seen more states embracing seat belts. While we have long been neu- tral on seat belts — we can build bus- es with them or without them — in re- cent years it just seems that more and more districts have adopted them. For those customers with IC Bus, I feel real- ly fortunate that our operational team and engineering team had the foresight to come up with the BTI seats, which includes the ability to retroft an exist- ing bus to a seat belt application only by replacing the seat back as opposed to replacing the whole seat. So it cer- tainly makes that an easier changeover — and certainly more cost effective and more effcient. We've seen a bigger focus on driv- er comfort, too. We have done a lot of work on driver ergonomics and driv- [Alternative-fuel models] still just represent 1% of all the C and D school buses on the road today. So the majority, 99%, are diesel products. John McKinney, president IC Bus McKinney says that parents are now "thinking about safety in terms of how we manage a student from the time they get picked up in the morning until they get delivered home."

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