A community business has been hard at work preparing to get district students to school safe and sound, and they have a brand new facility to work out of this year.
First Student Bus Lines has just recently moved to their new location behind Fastenal on Sixth Street West, and operation supervisor Tracy Mose is excited for the improvements that came along with it.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” Mose said.
“Wayne Booth is the owner of the building ad he’s been great.”
When their offices at the Peterbilt building began to feel too small to work out of any longer, Mose said that Booth had space available and has bent over backwards to accommodate the bus line.
“When we started to look around for something bigger, because obviously we needed it because we couldn’t stay at Peterbilt forever,” Mose said.
“I spoke with Wayne and he said, ‘Yeah, I have a building, want to come look at it?’ So he did the entire parking lot for us. He said, ‘How do you want the inside of the building designed?'”
The new building has gone from housing old tanks from the biomass boiler to being half offices, a meeting room and staff areas and a half-garage for the fleet of brand-new gasoline-powered buses that First Student will be operating in Fort Frances and Atikokan this year.
“I have 14 drivers here in Fort Frances,” Mose said.
“I also take care of Atikokan as well, and I have four full-time drivers in Atikokan. So I am sitting very well this year.”
Mose explained that with a year of operating in the district under their belts, First Student has ironed out the kinks that come with being a new business.
“We’re more confident,” she said.
“We’ve been at it for a year so we’ve been able to work out some of the hiccups and our changes.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, she said, is their commitment to the safety of the youth who rely on the buses to get to and from school every day.
“Safety is my number-one concern, and that was the main reason I wanted this job, was for the kids,” Mose said.
“That’s huge to me. Every single one of my drivers have gone out and done dry runs. Some of them have done multiple dry runs. Some of them have done dry runs on runs at aren’t even theirs, they done it for other routes as well.”
Mose said that driving a certain route for a long period of time -years in some cases- invariably leads to a sense of complacency, something that bringing in a different driver for a test run can help avoid.
“If, for example, one driver has been driving that run for 15 years, they are complacent,” she said.
“They don’t think of, ‘Oh, that tree’s actually in my way.’ Whereas somebody else gets on the buses and says, ‘Well, doesn’t that tree bother you? or ‘Isn’t this stop a little, you know, too far from the corners?'”
Corners prove to be a sticking point with some parents as well. The MTO guidelines for busses have allowances for how close to a corner a bus is allowed to stop, which sometimes means that the bus can’t pick a child up right outside their door if they live on or near a corner. Mose stressed that this isn’t a snub, it’s for the safety of everyone involved.
“If a car comes around that corner and blows through your lights who’s at fault: you or the driver?” she asked.
“Technically you both are: the bus driver for not making his stop 30 feet back and the driver who was in the vehicle that took the corner without paying attention.”
There are also strict procedures in place for bus drivers who witness other drivers illegally passing buses with their lights on and stop sign extended.
“We have the forms and stuff, that we fill out,” Mose said.
“I have samples for the drivers to look through and know exactly what’s written on there. I don’t have the statistics for here last year, but I can tell you that I had a file that was about an inch thick of who blew through lights. It’s scary. Especially when we can’t always have the kid crossing on the door side, some of them have to cross the street.”
The bus lines commitment to safety also comes through in the training that each bus driver is required to have.
“We have four meetings per year where we cover everything,” Mose said.
“They have to have a the yearly CVC, that’s not just one and done. They have to have a level C first aid, of course that has to be given. Driver’s abstract is yearly and then they have to have a defensive driving certificate done every three years and if they don’t, well, then the Board doesn’t want them to drive until they’ve taken it. So that’s a lot of things that they have to have done, we’re very, very strict.
“You can’t just put anybody behind the wheel of the bus,” she added.
“And if you’re no good with kids, you’re no good to me. If you’re just going to get on there and bark orders and yell and scream at kids, you’re in the wrong job.”