Originally published in The Weekly Packet, September 4, 2014
Andrea Brown is the face—and the company—behind Union 76’s shiny, new buses
Andrea Brown will drive a Deer Isle-Stonington route while her husband, Dwight Brown, will continue as a driver for Sedgwick Elementary School.
by Anne Berleant
How do you turn a small student transportation company into a million-dollar venture? Perseverance helps. So does a solid local reputation.
Andrea Brown Busing, a Sedgwick business operated by Brown, won a two-year contract with School Union 76 to transport students to and from its three elementary schools in Brooklin, Sedgwick and Deer Isle, as well as Deer Isle-Stonington High School. It was her second attempt to go head-to-head with national company First Student Inc., which is owned by British transportation company First Group, to secure the local contract.
Brown is a former driver and supervisor with Laidlaw, (acquired by First Group in 2007).
“I started driving a handicapped [student] run from Stonington to Brooklin,” she said in a recent interview. “That’s how I started. They bumped me up to a larger bus in a couple of months.”
That was in 1995. In 2004, when the union awarded its contract to low-bidder First Student, Brown left and began transporting special needs students for Union 93 and runs to Hancock County Technical Center.
Five years ago she bid against First Student for the Union 76 contract and lost. But last April, with parent complaints over busing on the rise, and a promise from Brown of new buses at a contract price $2,740 below that of First Student, the union chose “the local over the corporate,” Superintendent Mark Jenkins said after the board vote.
The unanimous vote for Andrea Brown came after months of meetings with and comparisons between First Student and Brown by a busing subcommittee formed by the board.
According to the subcommittee’s final report, it was at first skeptical of signing on with a start-up venture, but Brown’s proposal convinced them—in particular, the 11 brand new buses compared to those used by First Student, which were six to 10 years old.
“I wanted to continue driving. I’ve had parents asking me. So, I’ve always sort of kept my foot in the door,” Brown said. “Now it’s become not a job but a career.”
The new fleet of Thomas Saf-T-Liners is worth $1 million, Brown said. She is leasing them from W.C. Cressey & Son in Kennebunk.
One of the biggest challenges in creating her new fleet was paperwork.
“If anything is out of line, one number, I can’t get my buses registered,” she said.
The buses feature the latest in transportation technology, including front and back cameras, air seats and “a great view,” with large mirrors.
“That’s helped, especially coming onto the [Deer Isle-Sedgwick] bridge and the [Deer Isle] causeway,” Brown said.
Not everything in the company is brand-new, however. Several of her 13 drivers have kept the same routes they drove for First Student, which previously held the union bus contract—including her husband Dwight Brown, who drives one of two runs for Sedgwick Elementary School.
Other drivers are from her time at Laidlaw, and some are new. “It’s a mixture,” she said.
All drivers are vetted and have had background checks, and six she trained herself before the school year began—some of whom had previously held a bus license.
She has reworked some of the old bus routes to even out the number of students and to allow, when possible, drivers to drive their buses home at the end of the day and keep the mileage low.
Her advice to parents who are putting their children on the school bus? Reinforce the safety rules.
“That’s the biggest,” she said. “To make sure everyone understands the way to cross.” That means waiting for the driver to give the “thumbs-up” signal before crossing the street.
“The streets are still pretty busy,” she said.
And so is Brown—besides running Andrea Brown Busing, she’ll be behind the wheel, too, on one of the Deer Isle-Stonington routes.
“This is what I’ve done—Dwight and I—for 20-some years,” she said.