Author Archives: Pete M

Towards an Open Transportation Culture

When I train new supervisors and directors we always spend a fair share of time talking about how to create a successful culture where fresh, creative, and productive ideas flourish. Everybody wants to work in such an environment. Unfortunately, what I frequopen doorently hear at many of those same workshops is that these same managers / supervisors currently work in a setting that doesn’t in any way resemble such a successful culture.

In a prior blog Management – Einstein Style I discussed specific actions that leaders can take to help change their work environment. Now, several months later, after speaking with many school transportation professionals, I realize that what might be perceived of as a failure by an individual really demonstrates a weakness in the culture of the organization. Sure, a culture is built by individual actions but it is also built upon systems. That is, effective systems can bias the organization towards transparency or towards secrecy. If you’re in the pupil transportation business it would be beneficial to have processes that support openness. If you’re in the spy business perhaps you’d be better off with clandestine operations.

Read the rest of this entry

Priorities in Training

A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his recent trip to West Africa. It looks like he might have a fever as he is sweating profusely.

Training

How Do You Choose

Pete: In modern America, with its 24 hour news cycle, most bus drivers not only became aware of Ebola but probably became sick of it (as opposed to sick from it.) Despite all of the publicity, they came to know that the chances of this deadly disease affecting them or anyone on their bus are beyond miniscule. There’s a comparable chance that their bus will be hit by a meteorite. Nevertheless, some drivers, swayed by the incessant media publicity, might overreact to the sweating parent at the school bus door. Worse yet, some supervisors and directors might do the same.

Peggy: As you know, Pete, with the holidays, the indecision and confusion of planning a kitchen remodel, and other professional and personal distractions, I’m just now reading your late November thoughts. Interestingly – and sadly – the first paragraph might now say: “A parent approaches a school bus door as he is just finishing a conversation, which you overhear, about his unwillingness to have his son vaccinated for measles.” Unlike Ebola, measles is a more real, “trending” threat. While a driver – and a supervisor – might have a far more legitimate fear about letting this student on the bus, how does planning for the possible impacts of unvaccinated students on the bus impact our actions? Read the rest of this entry

Getting Past “If they only knew”

Recently I’ve been hearing phrases excuseslike “If they only knew how difficult” or “If they only knew how complicated”. Usually, the phrase is spoken in reference to some demand for service that someone is having trouble meeting and is used almost as an excuse for not being able to live up to expectations.

Typically, explaining how busy you are, how short staffed you are, or how complicated the task is, is perceived as an excuse. Modern customers don’t want to hear it. Barring some major “catastrophe” like a flu epidemic they don’t care that your organization didn’t hire enough people to get the job done. In their mind, that’s your problem and they’re not willing to make your problem their problem. There are almost always constraints or obstacles to performing any worthwhile task. Whether they are legal, political, procedural, fiscal, or even psychological, there are factors that make what would otherwise be a simple task, more difficult. Any dispatcher worth his or her salt can list at least 10 constraints off the top of their head. Read the rest of this entry

The Lost Customer

customer serviceA few months ago I wrote about a very progressive staff “play day” I witnessed during a layover at LaGuardia airport. Soon after I had another layover at New York City’s oldest airport; the negative experience there has inspired this post.

On a hot and humid July afternoon, I had almost two hours to wait due to a flight delay. Unfortunately the air conditioning system was not working which made the wait especially painful. There were many angry and frustrated passengers, most of whom had no choice but to be resigned to sweating it out and hoping they could make their flight connections at the next airport. We all crowded into the waiting area of our assigned gate listening for updates on the status of our flight. There was a single fan aimed in our general direction which provided very limited relief from the New York summer heat. Then, to my surprise, one of the airline employees picked up that fan and repositioned it to aim at the two agents working at the service counter. I was amazed at the brazen disregard for us and I mentioned it, probably a bit too loudly, to the gentleman sitting next me. As it turned out, that comment started a chain of events which ultimately led to a small uprising, that fan being redirected back towards the customers, and another fan being brought in and aimed at us as well. Read the rest of this entry

Tony, We’ll Miss You

When we were young and impressionable it used to be pretty easy to have heroes. Whether they were athletes, politicians, or even fictional “super-heroes” it was easy to focus on the great things they did. If they had flaws, they weren’t obvious. Members of the younger generations now have a much more difficult time finding heroes. These days it’s much harder to see people so positively because we know so much more – both good and bad – about them. Today, a president could not be confined to a wheelchair with more than 90% of the American public being unaware of it as was the case while FDR was president.

So it is with heartfelt sorrow that I reminisce about the great Tony Gwynn who had only one known vice – chewing tobacco (which ultimately led to his passing away from cancer). A few weeks ago, Mr. San Diego left us and we are all poorer for it. There are countless truly touching stories from a wide array of people whose lives were touched for the better by this baseball great. Bring a few tissues with you and browse the internet to see just how great he really was as a player, but more importantly, as a person.

I’ll just list a few of the traits that converted me to being a lifelong Tony Gwynn fan.

As a hitter there were none greater during his era. Even the best pitchers (Glavine, Maddox, Martinez) could not consistently get him out. He won 8 batting titles and batted above .300 for 19 years. As a fielder he also won 5 gold gloves. He even stole 56 bases one year. Despite all these accomplishments, nobody has ever heard about them from Tony. As I taught my children and the children I coached to be humble in success, there was no better role model than Tony, the greatest hitter of his era.

Due to his amazing success, Mr. Gwynn had numerous opportunities to move to other teams and make more money. Nevertheless, he turned down these offers and remained with the same team for 20 years. He also showed this same level of commitment in his charity work, family life, and preparation for baseball. Where a less committed person might ease off the hours and hours of studying to improve his performance, Tony kept up the hard work, recognizing that he might be the best in the game, but he could not be the best he could be if he eased off.

Tony Gwynn and Erica

Tony at a restaurant posing with 2 fans – one being my daughter Erica

Tony had a frequent and contagious laugh which seemed a perfect match for his generous nature. If there is anyone about whom it can be said “he enjoyed the journey” it was Tony Gwynn. Despite the pressure of professional baseball or coaching a top division college team or raising a family in these difficult times, Tony never took himself or the vicissitudes of life too seriously. He would always take the time to laughingly share a story with old or new friends. Even at the end of a long day he’d make sure that no young child, awed just to be in his presence, was left with an empty autograph pad or a frown on his face.

The closest I ever came to meeting Tony were the few times I had good seats at a Padre game. However, he significantly impacted my life by allowing my children and the kids I coached in both baseball and softball to have an untainted hero. Everybody in San Diego, even non-baseball fans, knew what it meant to “do it like Tony would.” It meant to give it your all, but to do so humbly, and to have fun along the way. A perfect role model for both young and old has left us – felled by that one and only vice.

A Graduation of a Different Sort

One of our school bus drivers, Mark, is celebrating receiving his Master’s degree after 14 years of college. Aside from marveling at his “sticktoitiveness” I was particularly struck by what he wrote in his graduation ceremony invitation. “Fourteen years ago I decided to go back to school and — only as an afterthought then —  to get a part time job driving a school bus.  Little did I know that becoming a school bus driver would be a bedrock of success for me!!” Read the rest of this entry

Happy Anniversary

Clearance Lights has just passed its 2nd anniversary. We’d like to take this moment to consider where we are and where we might go in the future. First, thanks to all of you who have dropped by to read our musings. Thanks also to School Transportation News for reprinting our posts. We’d also like to thank our respective spouses Mike and Jan for tolerating yet another distraction.

celebrateWhen we first started this blog we were looking for a quick and easy outlet to express our opinions and to incite some discussions. In that regard this effort has been a success – even if the discussions have mostly been between the two of us, while the “quick and easy” wasn’t quite. We’d still like to get more of you involved in our discussions. To that end, we’ve slightly revised the layout to highlight most frequently commented posts. Please let us know what else you’d like to see here. More or less opinions, analysis, stories, and humor? We’re definitely open to suggestions.

BTW, we’ll graciously accept anniversary gifts when next we see you.

Reconnecting … and Recharging

There are some days I wonder why I continue to be a school transportation director.  There’s certainly not a long line of applicants for the job. I usually quickly put those thoughts out of my mind and get to work providing service for students and their parents. Frequently this means dealing with angry and upset parents, irritated administrators, and frustrated staff. On those days I console myself in the firm belief that I am making a difference in the lives of students.

Last Friday was one of those days. A brief perusal of my calendar presaged the tedium of multiple meetings punctuated by the occasional “customer service” call. Not realizing that the day would turn out to be so busy, a couple of weeks earlier I had agreed to visit one of our elementary schools to read to students during Literacy Week. Read the rest of this entry

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