Bus Maintenance Never Stops

No Summer Break for Bus Upkeep
Posted on 07/15/2021
Image of Darlene Moody(Sean McDonnell for Beaconjournal.com/Akron Beacon Journal; Photos by Mike Cardew)

Each year, inspectors Larry Eller and Rick Lamp of the Ohio State Highway Patrol have about 1,100 school buses to look over, and they’ve gotten pretty efficient.

When a school bus engine revs and the inspection starts, it almost looks like Lamp’s conducting on orchestra. He’s quick with instructions for the driver, moving around as he shouts, “Left turn signal, right turn signal, open your door, brakes, reverse, wipers!”

He checks each light before he gets on a creeper and heads under the bus.

Lamp rolls around the wheels, checking the brakes and looking for rust under the bus while Eller checks the inside of it. Between the two of them, every part of the school bus gets eyes on it.

If everything’s in order, Eller said it’ll take them about 15 minutes to get through the whole bus.

Whether it's to a football game or class in the morning, Eller said the goal is make sure each bus trip is safe. He said the school district mechanics who make that happen don’t get enough credit.

“I call them the unsung heroes of the school district,” Eller said.

There’s no summer break for school bus maintenance.

In fact, Akron Public Schools Coordinator of Transportation Bill Andexler said his mechanics are busier than usual. With more summer schooling being done at APS, they’re running more than double the routes they normally would during the summer.

“This year is an unusual year,” Andexler said. “We’re doing more busing than we ever have.”

APS will normally run between 10 to 15 bus routes in the summer. This summer, the district is running 40, Andexler said.

On a normal day during the regular school year, the district runs about 80 routes, with another 27 to 35 drivers brought in from an independent contractor.

Image of Darlene Moody
Darlene Moody, a 20-year Akron Public Schools bus driver, cleans the roof emergency exit of a bus on Tuesday.

There are 100 yellow school buses in Akron schools' fleet and more than 100 other vehicles to keep maintained, including pickup trucks, dump trucks, student transport vans and other vehicles.

The last five of APS’ buses went through their annual inspections by the state Tuesday. Eller said each school bus statewide gets an annual inspection and a random spot check each year.

Andexler said his crews make repairs year round to keep buses in driving shape. Unless it’s close to the end of the school year, he said the district generally can’t wait until summer to make most repairs.

“All buses have to be ready for the road at any time,” he said.

Image of Larry Eller
Larry Eller, an Ohio State Highway Patrol motor vehicle inspector, checks the interior of a bus during an inspection Tuesday in Akron.

Much of the work is done in-house, Andexler said. He said the state inspectors will look over most of the bus, looking for anything from a cracked light to an oil leak to excessive rust.

What the summer does give the district is time to clean.

Each yellow bus is getting a deep clean this summer. Stairs get scrubbed. Windows get washed and floors get waxed. Cleaners check to make sure screws aren’t missing and everything’s in place.

Image of Melody Tinsley
School bus driver Melody Tinsley cleans to lower window of the emergency exit door on the back of a bus Tuesday in Akron.

Andexler said the GPS in each bus also will be replaced. The new system gives drivers directions, lets the buses be tracked and helps with daily inspections. It’ll take about four to five hours to install the system in each bus.

The summertime is spent getting caught up on services, Andexler said. The district also is taking time to learn and use a new software maintenance program.

Andexler said they call it the “classified side” of transportation, and they generally laugh when people think they get the summers off.

“We’re busier in the summertime then we are during the school year,” he said.

Image of Rick Lamb
Rick Lamb, an Ohio State Highway Patrol motor vehicle inspector, checks the lights as bus driver Darlene Moody follows his instructions during an inspection Tuesday in Akron.

Eller, who inspects buses as part of the Ohio State Highway Patrol motor carrier enforcement unit, said he and Lamp mostly deal with buses in Summit and Stark counties, with a few outliers.

He said no one thinks about the mechanics and maintenance workers behind the scenes — until something breaks or until there’s six inches of snow and someone needs to get the bus started.

They don’t get the recognition, but they’re the first people who get called, Eller said.

“The mechanics in all these garages work really hard to make sure the buses are in good shape,” he said.
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