Operating Transportation Advisors and EZ-DrugTest out of Charlotte, Tom Holden cautions school districts to keep track of driver records, drugs and alcohol testing, and COVID exposures
Tom Holden began his transportation career in 2002 as director of operations and general manager of Rose Chauffeured Transportation in Charlotte, North Carolina. For 16 years, he leads the company’s growth, eventually reaching $10 million in annual revenue driven by a fleet of 23 full-sized motorcoaches.
During that time, Holden spoke at multiple events and found a new calling – helping others to grow their transportation operations as a “business guru.” He founded Transportation Advisors (then called Bus Advisors) in late 2018 to pursue that passion. Specializing in safety and compliance, the company has clients in the school transportation, motorcoach, and trucking industries.
The office is Lead by his Daughter Brittney Holden. It truly is a family business with Tom’s wife Olga and Son Nicholas sharing responsibilities daily. The total number of team members in the company is now seven and growing.
Drugs and Alcohol
The company expanded its drug and alcohol testing platform in 2019, ultimately leading to creating a sister company – EZ-DrugTest. However, it maintains the core customer base of transportation providers, EZ-DrugTest services companies across many industries.
The company’s lab technicians in Charlotte are certified in accordance with 49CFR Part 40 (Part 40), Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs. These requirements ensure best practices and training standards for EZ-DrugTests’s urine collection and breath alcohol technicians.
“Positive drug tests have increased across the board, with no signs of decreasing in the future,” Holden said. “That can partially be attributed to certain states legalizing marijuana in recent years, along with the widespread use of CBD products.”
As a result, Holden said, it is essential for a variety of testing and detection services to be available to pupil transportation providers. He said his company provides random drug and alcohol screening services, drug and alcohol reasonable suspicion training for supervisors, on-site drug testing services, post-accident testing, drug and alcohol testing consortium management, federal and non-federal (dot) drug testing services, and pre-employment drug screening services.
Focus on Drivers
Transportation Advisors’ original core competency, Holden said, is assisting districts and companies with driver reporting, hiring, and recordkeeping. That often means communicating with districts every week regarding updated driver lists, drug testing, and more.
“Our process involves understanding every step of hiring, retaining, and managing drivers,” he said. “We know our clients personally, we know the people in their office, and we know to whom we must communicate.”
Root problems concerning drivers often begin during hiring. Many districts and companies use generic job application forms, which can cause trouble in the event of an accident or driver negligence.
“There is often just not enough information on these generic two-page forms,” he said. “To that end, we’ve created customized digital applications which provide much more data on a driver’s history and certifications.”
Holden added that districts must ensure that applications include whether a driver is registered in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse, established by Congress, an online database that provides real-time information about CDL driver drug and alcohol program violations to potential employers, the FMCSA, state driver licensing agencies, and law enforcement personnel.
A standardized and data-rich job application makes a big difference if questions later arise about a driver’s certifications or qualifications. In addition to providing adequate forms and records, Transportation Advisors helps districts organize files – including driver qualifications (DQ), human resources (HR), medical, and other vital records.
“At many locations I’ve seen, all these documents are kept in a single file,” Holden said. “This can be problematic in the event of a major event or accident – you don’t want investigators looking at medical or disciplinary records or anything that does not pertain to their investigation.”
Holden added that the team in Charlotte is adept at driver qualification file setup and management, previous employer safety performance history investigations, motor vehicle reports, employee background checks, and pre-employment screening.
Training and Consulting
No one can do it better than the district’s own safety supervisor or manager when it comes to training. That said, many supervisors and managers can find themselves hamstrung by clerical work when their focus should be on driver training.
“Our goal, in consulting with trainers, is to get them out from behind their desks and back into hands-on training,” Holden said. “Their talent is not in watching videos or completing forms, but in passing on their knowledge to drivers and employees.”
“We are not there to take the place of a safety supervisor,” he continued, “but rather to assist them so that they can spend more time with drivers.”
In the advent of the pandemic, Holden saw another need to be filled for his transportation partners – easy and accessible COVID-19 testing.
Transportation Advisors’ lab uses a saliva-based molecular test authorized by the FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization. No lab technician is required to be present at the collection – employees simply swab themselves, drop the sample in an envelope, and mail it to the lab for rapid testing.
“COVID-19 testing was a no-brainer for transportation, especially school buses,” Holden said. “God forbid a driver infects a child or suffers serious complications themselves due to contracting COVID on the job. It is not worth the risk to not have COVID testing readily available.”
More than anything, Holden said, the company’s primary service is a partnership.
“Our team is an extension of the district’s team,” he said. We spend a lot of time supporting clients – crossing T’s and dotting I’s in many cases – compared to a typical TPA (Third Party Administrator). It can be easy for transportation departments and school districts to lose track of necessary internal records, especially when they are so focused on the day-to-day intricacies of providing pupil transportation.”