There’s often no need to use the word “City” when speaking about “New York.” With apologies to residents across the rest of the vast, diversified state, The Big Apple is a world unto itself, one of the most vibrant, historic and congested places one could ever visit. Quite certainly, it’s London, Paris and Rome all rolled into one bright, neon traffic jam. Now, just try to think about operating school bus service there.
“It’s pretty fast paced being that its five boroughs, all very, very congested, and you’re operating school buses, trying to weave in and out of the traffic, the taxi cabs and all the crazy stuff New York City has to offer,” said Corey Muirhead, director of contracts and business development at Logan Bus Company. “Because we’re so densely populated, we’re one of the largest school systems in America.”
Actually, New York City is the largest school district in the 50 states, and the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation oversees the the largest student transportation operation, which moves nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students enrollment each day across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. Transporting about 686,000 students each day is vastly more than what many states transport, total. Additionally, New York City also boasts the largest special needs transportation operation at 70,000 students, which is about 41 percent of the total special education student population, according to the City. And 16,000 pre-kindergarten students also ride the bus.
The Office of Pupil Transportation, or OPT, is tasked with providing safety training, planning more than 8,500 routes a day and customer service, and it contracts out the actual bus service to more than 60 private transportation companies. One of those is Logan Bus, which has experienced significant growth in recent years, especially after the Atlantic Express bankruptcy and dissolution three years ago. That event helped to further solidify Logan Bus, already as tight-knit of a group as they come, one where Mom and Dad drove routes and repaired the vehicles alongside their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors. Then they had kids who joined the business, often as early as high school during summer vacation before later joining the operation full time.
Beyond the requisite traffic snarls and honking horns and colorful local epithets, family is precisely what makes the city so strong and longitudinal, especially when more than four out of five New Yorkers—residents of the entire state, that is—actually living within the five boroughs. That’s 8.5 million people packed into just 300 square miles, which is only a staggering sixth-tenth of one percent the land size of the entire state. That’s also more than just figuratively a needle in a haystack.
But the head of that pin boasts nearly 28,000 residents per square mile—while the rest of New York has only, on average 413 per square mile—so New York City can be forgiven any eccentricities. These demographics are precisely what strengthens familial and neighborhood bonds, and the Logan Bus clan exemplifies this.
Take a few minutes to speak with any company employe and it becomes evident their passion for transporting students, especially those with disabilities and preschoolers, how the company got its start in the first place. But their collective roles are essentially a drop in the bucket in terms of bus service for the New York City Department of Education. So it takes something special to be noticed.
Logan Bus has 3,700 employees, 2,000 of which are drivers to steer a similar-sized fleet, and boasts about 25-percent market share of New York City routes. Logan Bus also operates several subsidiaries on Long Island. All told, it has a fleet of about 2,400 school buses, including spares, and the majority are Type-A van conversions, and transports a total of 50,000 students a day.
The company’s history dates back to 1970, when Richard Logan opened a small operation to provide special needs and preschool busing for a couple of Long Island communities. Soon he added a couple of routes in Queens. Then, in 1979, badda-boom, Richie picked up additional work with New York City’s first school bus bid, and the company took off.
The next decade saw Logan Bus running shuttles for the new airline JetBlue until it was big enough to add its own in-house service. In those days, Richie called all the shots, handling operations, finances and purchases, but he made sure his children were also learning the family business.
To this day, Richie, Jr., and Lisa remain a part of the company. But it’s been Lorinda who especially took a shine to company leadership, and to the inner financial workings. She is now president of Logan Bus and is married to Michael Tornabe, the company’s chief operations officer. Whereas Richie made the ultimate call on everything from routing to training to vehicle maintenance, Lorinda and Michael co-direct the company in constant consult with Muirhead, GM Joe DiGiacomo, an 18-year veteran whose late father also worked at Logan for 20 years, and Operations Manager Michael Cordiello, who oversees all vehicle and equipment maintenance, a staff of 200 technicians, properties, and the company’s own tow truck service. Oh, and he’s also always monitoring the weather forecasts.
“Richie did everything, so it was his way 100 percent,” commented Tornabe, who joined the company in 2003. “I put things on everyone. If they aren’t 100 percent we should do it, we don’t do it.”
Linda has her father’s knack for money, but Tornabe said she is also quicker on the draw to purchase land for bus yards, a scarcity. In fact, “My wife likes to buy property,” he said. “Her dad only bought when he absolutely had to.”
Tonabe recalled 2005, shortly before Richie Logan passed away from cancer, when the company was in the process of purchasing 14 acres for bus yards near JFK International Airport. The deal was languishing despite a growing need for more real estate, especially with new contracts and the more than 150 city and Long Island routes that came with them. Following her father’s death, Lorinda quickly stepped in and closed the deal. Since, Tornabe said Logan Bus has developed eight pieces of property over the past six years. In addition to the work in the five boroughs, the company also operates in Nassau County, Long Island.
“We bought more in Queens, near JFK, trying to get closer and closer to our destinations,” Tornabe said. “You can’t get caught in 30 minutes of traffic, and you can’t have a yard 10 to 15 miles away, or you’ll never get kids to school on time.”
Expansion has become a necessity, especially following the breakup of Atlantic Express in 2013. Logan Bus has turned one company’s demise into its own boon, as it now operates about a quarter of all New York City routes. Of the 2,000 routes Logan Bus currently services, Muirhead said that about three-quarters are transporting students with disabilities. Complicating matters, Muirhead also said that New York City’s Office of Pupil Transportation needs to frequently modify or add routes, not to mention staying on top of safety training for all school bus drivers and matrons, the local vernacular for bus monitors, as well as the ever-evolving technology and vehicle maintenance.
“Really you have to stay on top of your game to make sure you’re always in the know with changes that happen every single day, week and month,” added Muirhead, an industry veteran already at only 26 years old and one of the industry’s up-and-coming stars.
Muirhead earned more than a few grey hairs in December of 2013 when Logan Bus was awarded contracts surrendered by the Atlantic Express bankruptcy in both the city and on Long Island, but was only given three weeks to get up and running. The deal closed on Dec. 12 and school started Jan. 3.
“We basically started a 500-bus operation overnight,” said Muirhead, who swears he didn’t sleep for the three weeks, well not much anyway. And neither did about 30 other employees who burned the midnight oil over and over again to ensure there was no interruption in service.
“We were peeling stickers, doing oil changes, putting on new tires, all the buses had to re-lettered. To do that in 10 days, the hours we were basically working, there was no property because we had no parking. That was a feat in itself,” Tornabe said.
It was a testament to the all-hands-on-deck culture at Logan Bus—not to mention the countless number vendors and suppliers that have helped along the way—where seemingly all staff have literally grown up with the company, going to work with Mom and Dad, when no job was too small for them to get their little hands dirty.
While OPT handles almost all of the transportation administration for city routes, Logan Bus operates its own customer call center and does all the routing for the four districts it serves in Nassau County.
DiGiacomo said that he has seen Logan Bus grow from literally a “Mom and Pop shop to a full-fledged business.” He started working at Logan while still in high school, serving summers as a bus attendant while his dad was Richie Logan’s head dispatcher. He came onboard full time in 1989, but to this day no job is too small. All employees, no matter their title, get their hands dirty.That same mentality held company wide saved the day for Logan Bus during the Atlantic Express transition.
“There were a few nights around the clock,” he said. “We were bidding on buses, buying routes. It was a really short period of turnaround time. But we had a lot of good people working on it. They came together as a solid team and we got everything out in time. I give a lot of credit to our people.”
So it’s no surprise that Logan Bus strives to take care of its people. And that’s one reason that the company really doesn’t feel any real driver shortage, DiGiacomo explained. The friendly faces and comfortable driver rooms help, but he said it goes much further than that.
“I’ve heard it quite often about a nationwide shortage, but I guess our reputation is very good in the industry and good with people looking for jobs,” he added. “We feel we have many, many, many happy employees here.”
No doubt this is due, at least in part, to Logan Bus employing all drivers full time because of the high number of students with disabilities the company is transporting. All drivers receive a full day of work and receive all benefits and even a pension, a benefit of working in the largest union city in America.
“If you want to be a, quote-unquote, part-time driver, that provides a problem for the kids. They need continuity,” DiGiacomo said.
The family culture also respects everyone’s viewpoints. That’s what Cordiello said that sets Logan Bus apart from other local companies.
“What I liked about Logan is you don’t have to go through channels, it’s not a bureaucracy,” he said. “If anyone comes up with idea, we’ll try it.”
Muirhead added, “We are a group think tank. There’s no corporate hierarchy, and everybody weighs in on decisions.”
Employee loyalty and 40 years of experience navigating the streets of New York City has reinvigorated a company that only about a decade ago had an uncertain future.
“Everyone thought we were imploding because Richie was dying,” Tornabe said. “To this day people are still surprised by us. We really keep to ourselves. We are on the outside looking in, but we’ve managed to stay alive.”
It’s flourishing, even, as Tornabe said that New York City recently awarded Logan Bus a three-year extension.
Logan Bus is now truly a family affair dedicated to school busing and the customers it serves. All for one and one for all.