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Bus boss runs tight ship

Although that yellow school bus pulls up every day without out fail, Al Karam knows exactly what goes into keeping 143 buses and 116 routes running smoothly and safely.

He also knows exactly what goes into getting outside at 3 a.m. to check on road conditions during a potential snow day before reporting back to the district superintendent.

Karam is Bethlehem School District's transportation director, and it is his job to oversee every one of the 3.2 million miles traveled by Bethlehem buses each year, which are driven by 133 drivers and assisted by 34 bus attendants.

As a former Marine, Karam runs a tight ship, and he works with what he describes as a dedicated, hardworking and tight-knit staff. On a Tuesday, Oct. 14, tour of the district's facilities, Karam walked through a day in the life of his busy transportation department.

We've got 170 people working here, and the only time you'll see them all here at one time is when we have our monthly training meeting, Karam said, walking through a break room complete with a dispatcher headquarters. "There are 632 mandates that we have to adhere to."

The room was recently expanded as part of a new capital construction project for the district. A new fully automated bus wash was also added to the facility.

Before the bus wash, each bus had to be washed by a single pressure washer, and there was no way to properly wash the undercarriage of the vehicles, a place where salt and other chemicals can wreak mechanical havoc.

Karam said something as simple as keeping the buses clean can save a lot of money in maintenance in the long run.

The bus garage consists of three large bays where seven mechanics with 67 years of combined experience work on and maintain all 143 buses.

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