Bus boss runs tight ship

Maintenance and safety is the key priority there.

"Our goal is to get to at least five large buses a day," Karam said of the rigorous 21-day inspection schedule needed to maintain each bus. On top of the district's inspections, the state's Department of Transportation sends an inspector every six months to school's transportation department to do its own inspection.

Bethlehem now also touts a 2.4 percent DOT out-of-service rate for 2007-08, which is among one of the best in the state, according to Karam.

"Before I got here in 2000, they had a high of like 24 or 26 percent out-of-service rate," Karam said. "That means that one out of four or so buses were down for one reason or another. That's not good, it should be below 10 percent."

He credits the addition of two mechanics to the staff and community support for the department with helping the district get the rate down so radically in less than a decade.

The district recently restructured its bus routes, which on an average year takes 732 hours to map out for a coming school year, in order to maximize the number of children on buses and find the shortest routes possible.

During a Wednesday, Oct. 1, board of education transportation department presentation, Karam answered the question frequently asked of why the buses spotted around town don't seem full of students.

Karam said that it often depends on where on the route the bus is, whether it is just starting or ending, and the driver may also be between routes.

"You can only transport so many students over that time and distance and still make it to school on time," he told board members.

When it comes to alternative fuels Karam said he has spoken with Superintendent Michael Tebbano about the possibility of hybrid or other types of buses to be added to the fleet. However, Karam said, the district doesn't want to invest in first-generation technology, and that it could cost just as much to replace a single battery pack as it would to buy a whole new bus.

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