Two Fleets Face Similar Challenges During the Pandemic

Two Fleets Face Similar Challenges During the Pandemic


By Donald Dunphy and Gena Galeros

April 2020

 
A tale of two fleets, different in nearly every respect but for one: the logistics of moving people from place to place. Make that two: their ability to accomplish their work has been completely reshaped, sometimes completely undermined, by the spread of Covid-19.
 
We caught up with two NAFA members to talk about their current challenges; they wanted to show their solidarity with other fleets and NAFA members who are also experiencing this shared history.
They requested anonymity, as their work situations are sensitive.
 

Airport Impact
 
“It’s affected business in air travel, which then affects our income,” says one respondent who manages the fleet at an airport. Travel bans have subsequently affected the industry, so much so that federal officials announced Tuesday, April 14 that airports will receive millions in aid to support operations and replace funding lost due to the decline in passenger traffic from the pandemic.
 
Airports are essential and open but under the current circumstances, there aren’t enough passengers to sustain operations. “The airport has clamped down on all spending, and that has affected our ability to get parts and things like that. Things are a little hard to get done around here right now. Our parts department isn’t even allowed to order stock. The airport just kind of cut all funding, so we’re just trying to keep running without replacement parts.”  
 
How is this affecting their vehicles? “We have an extremely extensive preventive maintenance program and its affecting that significantly,” he says. “Some of our schedules, like our snow equipment maintenance schedule right now, are being pushed back. We don’t have filters for most of the equipment on the standard schedule. Since we can’t order them, we are falling behind on preventative maintenance indefinitely.”
 
This fleet has policies in place for cleaning and disinfecting the vehicles, including a full disinfectant for vehicles coming in. “They all get wiped down and cleaned with bleach…steering wheel, shifter, keys, everything that might have been touched. We also clean the whole shop twice per shift with bleach. That includes doorknobs, bathrooms, breakrooms, wherever exposure might be.”
 
 

The School Bus
 
“During spring break, we normally would be working four days this week,” our correspondent says. “Because of the situation, we’re all lost. There’s no work going on.”  His business is transporting students to and from school, but now classes have been replaced by work-from-home digital classrooms. They have been able to repurpose their equipment, “Our district has the ability to do everything online for e-learning. Nothing was going on for two weeks as far as transporting students, but we were still delivering lunches to communities. We are not completely shut down and we plan to keep doing that probably until we can open back up. Realistically, I suspect the students will wind up not going back to school for the rest of the year.” In the meantime, it is the transportation department’s responsibility to make sure drivers are cleaning the school buses thoroughly. “We provide them with what they need to disinfect buses, but it’s up to them to do it.”
As a note, according to School Transportation News, guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education will offer funding flexibilities to school districts to support continued student learning during the COVID-19 school closures. This could include the new school bus operating costs related to food delivery to economically disadvantaged students covered by Title I of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
 
Our correspondent reports he will use this downtime to work on some of the vehicles. “As long as the school buses are running – and since we are still doing food deliveries -- then we will be at work. We’ve got 1,900 school buses and probably about 600 of them are in use now. We’re making the most of the whole situation regarding maintenance and what-have-you.”
 
 

What Do You Do While You’re Waiting?
 
The shutdown offers an opportunity to get creative in terms of repurpose and redeployment. For example, fleets deemed “non-essential” can find new strategies to keep operational and find new purpose for the services they offer. For our airport fleet manager, that means stretching resources, reusing parts and keeping equipment from being damaged in the interim. For our school bus manager, it means finding another purpose for vehicle assets for the benefit of the communities they serve.


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