Photos: Brent Humphreys
Working through the school bus bidding process can be a confounding experience. And with budgets tighter than ever, the pressure to make the right purchase decision has never been more intense. We asked the co-owners of the largest school bus dealership in North America, Jim Bridgewater and Barry Huebner of Midwest Transit Equipment, for their top tips on how to bring clarity to the confusion.
SET A REPLACEMENT SCHEDULE—AND STICK TO IT
“When you make purchasing decisions on a year-to-year basis, you might skip a year when things are tight and not consider the total cost of ownership,” Huebner says. A long-term plan is the smarter way to keep your equipment on the road and out of the shop. To get started, determine the life cycle of the different buses in your fleet: Chances are, the high-mileage road warriors need to be swapped out more often than the average route runners. Then come up with a dynamic replacement plan that helps you maximize trade-in values and stay ahead of rising maintenance costs.
GET CREATIVE WITH FINANCING
Don’t have the funding to replace the aging vehicles in your fleet with brand-new buses? Consider investing in late-model used products instead.“There are plenty of great used buses out there right now,” Huebner notes. “The question shouldn’t be: How many buses can we afford? You should ask: What do we need in order to operate in an efficient manner—and how can we get it done?”
NOT ALL BIDS ARE CREATED EQUAL
It’s important to always work from a detailed spec sheet—especially when you’re shopping for products from different bus makers. “You want to be sure you’re comparing apples to apples,” Bridgewater says. The lowest bid might not include important safety options such as traction-control brakes or antislip entrance steps. “Remember, if the cheapest bus doesn’t meet your long-term view, it could end up costing you a lot more down the road.”