Check Rides Help
Bus Drivers Stay SharpPosted by Josh Flory on 10/18/2018
Terry Holloway worked at Norfolk Southern for 40 years. But when he retired from the railroad, he quickly discovered that casting for bass and enjoying the open road weren’t enough to keep him busy.
“You can’t ride that motorcycle every day,” he said. “You can’t fish every day.”
For the last three years, Holloway has been a bus driver for Lynch Bus Lines, and on a recent afternoon his number was called for the check ride required of every KCS driver.
Benjamin Honaker, a check ride safety officer with the Knox County Schools Security Division, met Holloway at the Lynch Bus yard on Rutledge Pike, and boarded the bus for its trip to Sunnyview Primary School, Chilhowee Intermediate School and Holston Middle School.
Besides helping Holloway brush up on his driving routine, the check ride provided a window into the unique challenges facing bus drivers -- and the extra effort they make to keep children safe.
Like every trip, this one started with Holloway running through a pre-ride checklist, using a fleet management tool called “Zonar”. Each school bus is equipped with nondescript yellow buttons at various zones on the vehicle. Drivers use a hand-held inspection device to check in at each button, and complete any inspection tasks associated with that zone: looking under the hood, examining brake lights, testing the handle on the rear exit door.
After verifying that everything was in order, Holloway got on the road, pulling up to Sunnyview shortly before 2:30 and spending the next few minutes sitting with other drivers. When the bell rang for dismissal, Sunnyview principal Sydney Upton briefly climbed aboard to help students get situated, and then the bus pulled away.
One of the biggest challenges became apparent almost immediately -- Holloway’s responsibility to scan the road while also maintaining awareness of the students behind him.
Shortly after leaving Sunnyview, a Nissan Pathfinder pulled out in front of the bus to make a left turn, cutting it a little too close for comfort. Holloway made a point of telling Honaker that he had seen the Pathfinder coming. Seconds later he showed an ability to multi-task, telling a student in the back to stop screaming.
After making a stop on Skyline Drive, Holloway left his perch to help a student collect his bag -- a regular occurrence -- and at a subsequent stop he helped another student pull her hood up before she went down the bus steps. As she trudged up a steep driveway, Holloway -- known to his students as “Pops” -- waited until the front door of the house had opened before driving on.
Between those stops, he steered the bus down a narrow section of Sunset Road, as a garbage truck suddenly appeared around a bend. It seemed iffy whether the road was wide enough for both vehicles, but Holloway calmly applied the brakes and slid past, with inches to spare.
Taken together, the ride highlighted the multi-faceted nature of the role: part driver, part disciplinarian, and part father figure.
“You grow to love them,” Holloway said of his students.
Throughout the ride, Honaker sat in the front row of the bus, where he monitored Holloway’s driving while also bantering with students. It’s a normal routine for the security officer, who does check rides on most mornings and afternoons.
Honaker said his goal isn’t to get drivers in trouble, but to keep kids safe and make sure drivers are up to date on procedures and policies. While his checklist has dozens of items, he said one point of emphasis is making sure that drivers are up to speed on proper signal use, including the “eight-way” lights that alert other drivers to a drop-off or pick-up.
Honaker, himself a licensed bus driver, said it takes a special person to do the job every day. Asked what makes a good driver, he cited patience, understanding and the ability to multi-task.
“You have all different types of kids, and the bus drivers are the first person the kids see other than their parents in the morning,” he said. “So if they had a bad night or they just had a stressful evening or something, the bus driver can turn that around and make them have a better day.”