Jeff Niziol was on the corporate side more than five years ago, but today, he is a school bus driver in Southern Ontario, Canada, driving students from three different schoolboards.
He does two-hour shifts in the morning for a high school and an elementary school, and then two elementary schools in the afternoon. He also does occasional charter work, serving a variety of clients, from school events, to community functions and even weddings.
“Daisy”, as Jeff endearingly named his yellow 47-seater, transports anywhere from 100-150 to 200-300 students a day. “With elementary students, we can do 70 kids per ride,” Jeff notes proudly.
There are three rules he abides by: Be safe. Be nice. Have fun. The first one is uncompromising.
“I take my job very seriously,” adds Jeff, “Too seriously even, but I’m ok with that. My kids are a precious cargo…those are human lives in my hands…and I will protect them for the rest of my life.”
Why the BigRoad App?
School bus drivers are officially required to fill out their daily record of duty, and many still do it on paper. With multiple shifts and occasional charter jobs, Jeff wanted an app to simplify the daily routine.
“We are professional drivers and have to follow the same rules as the big rigs. Got to always be safe on the job. And just because you’re part-time driver doesn’t mean you pay a part-time fine!”
Jeff googled free record of duty apps and BigRoad came up.
“I chose BigRoad because I saw it’s a Canadian company, based in Waterloo, and I really like the interface. It gives me a duty status, and how much time I have remaining before I need to take a mandatory break. We don’t have onboard computers, so I find this important for professional drivers.”
“I was doing my regular inspection one morning, and the BigRoad app said I was out of hours. I showed it to the dispatcher and there was no issue. If I were doing my record of duty on paper, I would have just driven and been a hazard on the road. The BigRoad app does the thinking for me. The pre-trip inspection feature makes it fast and easy.”
“With school and charter work, it makes my life a lot easier. It tags my location when I’m changing status; it can prove where I was. It takes away the guesswork out of the equation. If I stopped somewhere, it is right there in the app.”
“I also have the ability to do a status with a note to differentiate between regular school work and charter work. For example, I put ‘C’ for charter and ‘R’ for regular. This helps to categorize it, which is very handy at the end of the week, and when I reconcile my paycheck. Putting notes in statuses is awesome!”
“That little kid is my customer”
Jeff is an avid proponent of safety – above all, with school drivers – and sees patience as a big part of the job.
“Slow down. Don’t be in such a rush. Do it right, even if parents are waiting.”
“Driving a school bus, you rely on your mirrors more, trying to find the danger spot, swiveling your head...school buses rarely get into accidents, but if they do, it will be on six o’clock news.”
“It’s one of the safest methods of transport. Drivers are very well trained and are held to an extremely high standard. If necessary, they will be brought back for retraining.”
Like with most commercial drivers, there is more demand than supply. Jeff admits that being a school bus driver is difficult due to the conditions and nature of the job, especially with split shifts, and it is challenging to attract more people to do it.
“This job is not for everyone. As I always say, everyone can drive a school bus, but not everyone can be a school bus driver. It takes a certain mentality.”
“It’s an important job – transporting young people. And it’s a great opportunity for people who love to drive and being on the road, like truck drivers who don’t want to do the interstate long-haul any more, or stay-at-home moms and retirees. The demographic is wide, and we need to inspire more people to do this job.”
Jeff also sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community, because the benefits of the job aren’t measured in money, or prestige, or power.
“When a little kid comes and gives you a hug and says “you’re the best school bus driver ever”, it melts your heart. It’s about giving back; it’s more honest. And parent appreciation goes an extra mile.”
“When new drivers experience it for the first time, they get it.”
“Commercial drivers…your customers don’t talk to you. That little kid is my customer. I talk to kids, and we get along great. Those are the kind of experiences you can get, if you put in the time and effort.”