January 2011

Kobussen Coach Ltd. - Kaukauna, Wis.

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Kobussen, which prides itself on safety, was the first operator to receive an MCI J4500 equipped with three-point seat belts.

If your operation stays in business for 72 years, spanning three generations of family ownership, you have to be doing something right. Some of the things Kaukauna, Wis.-based Kobussen Coach Ltd. does right include sticking to its core principles, providing excellent driver training and staying one step ahead of the competition.

The company was incepted in 1938 when Elwood Kobussen, who was a dairy farmer and trucker by trade, employed a hired hand and began taking his and other farmers' milk into town, essentially starting a milk truck business, which would eventually lead to providing transportation to out-of-town students to and from Kaukauna High School. From there, the City also went on to hire what was then called Kakauna Bus Service Inc. to operate and manage its inner city transit service that same year, explains Dan Kobussen, Elwood's grandson and current secretary of the operation.

The operation changed to its current name in 1976, expanded to include luxury motorcoaches for charter trips and groups in 1983, and recently became a member of Trailways, having been passed down over the years from Elwood to his son to current President Joe Kobussen. Over the journey, Dan says the lessons learned have been to stick to quite simple principles.

"Be honest, straightforward and hard working. Just be the best you can at what you're doing all the time," he explains. "You can't take anything for granted; you have to work at it. Beyond that, just be honest with everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page."

Another cornerstone of the operation is keeping solid, well-trained drivers.

Kobussen Buses Ltd. provides approximately 40 hours of pre-employment training, including a thorough background check as well as a physical and drug/alcohol testing prior to hiring. It also provides ongoing monthly safety meetings and offers additional annual training classes in CPR and First Aid.

All drivers are also required to take a defensive driving class at a local technical college, which gives the drivers a chance to safely skid buses around a track and do emergency stop procedures, enabling them to understand how the buses will react in extreme maneuvers. 

To improve the safety of its drivers, Kobussen teamed up with Waukesha, Wis.-based Sleep Apnea Solutions Inc. to test for the very dangerous medical condition, which has been the cause of many accidents in the industry.

To improve the safety of its passengers, Kobussen added the first J4500s from Motor Coach Industries with three-point seat belts in North America.

"We just thought it was tough to argue with mom and apple pie. Seat belts are coming, and we thought having extra safety equipment on the vehicle was worth it," says Kobussen. "The normal consumer doesn't ask about seat belts, they don't require seat belts, because they just assume the coach has seat belts. So, it's more of an expectation than anything else."

Recently, Kobussen won the "great idea of the year award" from Trailways Performance Group for the idea to change the gear ratio of the rear ends on certain coaches.

The operation purchases new 3.21 rear-ends for about $2,500 and replaces the stock 3.73 Detroit Series 60/ZF transmission rear-ends. It then takes the stock 3.73 and replaces the stock 4.30 in a Cummins/Allison coach. 

"This allows us to split the $2,500 between two coaches, and nets us about an extra 0.8 to 0.9 of a mile per gallon per coach," explains Kobussen. "We estimate that this will be approximately a one-year payback and a $1,250 savings annually after that per coach."

Being a fixture in Kaukauna over the last 70-plus years, Kobussen remains active in all seven communities it operates out of, with each of the depots taking part in "Adopt-a-Family" program  as well as other local events, such as "Stuff the Bus" drives prior to each school year.

Kobussen says that the operation's participation in community events just comes with the territory.

"It is what it is," he says. "We're not out to do it to get any benefit out of it. The benefit is to the community and to the people donating their time."



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