A Look Inside: Student Transit
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Student Transit is one of Wisconsin’s oldest providers of student transportation services, having served the Altoona and Eau Claire districts since 1939. Co-owner Jim Fey likens the business to watching a duck, “calm on the surface but paddling like crazy underneath.” WEAU takes “A Look Inside” the success of big yellow in the Chippewa Valley.
“We know that the parents are entrusting us, our drivers, our monitors when they see them off at the bus stop in the morning, that they are going to arrive home safe in the afternoon.”
For nearly a half century Student Transit has been transporting students with the iconic big yellow school busses in the Chippewa Valley. Four generations of Fey’s now led by brothers’ Jim and Ray promote an ongoing mission of providing safe rides for all passengers. The boys credit their Dad and mentor Phillip for growing the family business and nurturing the partnership with the Eau Claire Area School District. Flip’s vision of treating every employee and customer like family while training their staff in-house, while purchasing top of the line equipment.
“I think the school bus industry has done an amazing job of putting safe equipment out on the road,” says Jim Fey, Student Transit co-owner and Director of Operations. “All school buses are all manufactured to a high standard and we take extra pride in the equipment that we buy and we try to buy the nicest equipment we can afford for our employees to drive and we feel we have one of the nicest fleets in the state if not the country. Hopefully that also instills in our drivers that are driving nice equipment, take care of it because they have the world’s most precious cargo they’re transporting.”
‘Big Yellow’ ranges in price from 135 to 145-thousand dollars, and with a fleet of more than 100 busses, Student Transit travels to great lengths in making sure they run smoothly and efficiently. Student Transit added to their routes by taking over bussing for the Altoona School District in 2013. Soon after, the company outgrew its old facility and eventually moved into a larger space in 2015. The new space able to accommodate additional busses, maintained by a state-of-the-art in house mechanic shop.
“Preventative maintenance is huge. We have a great computer program that we use on the busses, when they come in for fuel, the odometer is registered that way, the guys go through and know when the bus needs to come in for PM, that’s our biggest thing, preventive maintenance, before anything breaks we want it fixed,” says Ray Fey, Student Transit Co-owner.
“Scanning the bus, making sure everything on the exterior is working, that’s our lights, the engine.”
Safety is paramount. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation report on March 29th, Student Transit received a federal safety rating of satisfactory, the highest mark for a motor carrier. Director of Safety David Myers says pre-trip inspections by the more than 100 drivers is part of their daily routine before hitting the road.
“It’s the shops deal to get it fixed but it’s on that driver to make sure that everything is functioning in their pre-trips so we have the privilege of having our own shop right here,” says Myers. “They can call shop, and shop can run out here and change a headlight or jump start, or whatever it might be.”
Providing a roadmap for drivers looking to get their commercial drivers licenses, or CDL’s goes into the required training at Student Transit. Once a potential driver passes mandatory background and drug tests, Training Coordinator LeAnne Moehle says S-T will not only pay for the costs of earning your CDL but will also provide paid training. Once behind the wheel of Big Yellow, the biggest adjustment for school bus drivers? The use of their mirrors.
“In yellow, the rearview mirror is the student mirror and all you’re seeing is their faces and their shenanigans,” says Moehle. “For us, we want to use our outside mirrors, we have three different ones on the bus, there is a straight, convex and crossover mirror, those will help you see everything whether you’re too closed to a curb or you’re too close to a parked car but the back end of that bus will swing 5-6 feet when you make a corner. So that’s probably the biggest eye-opener, that’s close, that’s a lot of swing.”
When transporting thousands of kids daily, student behavior can become tricky to navigate for drivers, parents and school district officials. Student Transit Behavior Liaison Mark Larson says reporting mischief is a system to help the bus become more welcoming for everybody involved.
“Some of our drivers are more reserved, some are more outgoing but what we always encourage our drivers to be is approachable so if an issue does come up on the bus, the kid trusts the driver,” says Larson.
Student Transit in Larson’s words, “go to the ends of the earth” to support their drivers with behavioral issues on the bus while also working closely with principals and parents. His message to drivers.
“Don’t expect respect but always give respect. There’s going to be issues on the bus because human nature is what it is, but they all deserve our respect. Even when we’re not seeing it we need to give it. Those kids we’re driving are our customers children.”
For more information on Student Transit services offered, click on this link.
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