It might be hard to believe, but iconic community presence Dean Transportation has been in business for more than 50 years. The company’s roots are firmly planted in supporting the needs of schoolchildren, including those with special needs, and its plans are to continue along those lines while also spreading newer roots.
“After 50 years of quality service to our communities, Dean’s commitment to students and parents continues to grow stronger,” said Kellie P. Dean, president and CEO of Dean Transportation. “Our goal is to continue living up to our core values of integrity, trust, respect, compassion, quality, communication, teamwork and advocacy as we enter our next 50 years serving Michigan families.”
Dean Transportation first hit the scene in the 1950s as Special Transportation, a service founded by Eric Christensen, who transported children with polio to and from school during the ’50s and ’60s. Special Transportation was incorporated by Lyle L. Stephens, a former Michigan State Police motor carrier officer who had an established reputation for passenger safety.
Fast-forward to 1986 when Kellie Dean joined Special Transportation. Kellie Dean holds a master’s degree in school administration and served in the Lansing School District, where he worked in special education. In 1991, Kellie Dean purchased the company and changed its name to Dean Transportation.
The company continued advocating for people with disabilities, including its stance as one of the primary entities pushing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to toughen specifications on equipment used to transport people in wheelchairs. It was a five-year battle, and the result was significantly safer transportation for many people with disabilities.
Today, Dean Transportation employs more than 2,400 staff members, making it one of the largest privately owned transportation companies in the U.S. The business is family run. In addition to Kellie Dean, his sons, Patrick and Christopher, are its vice president and its business intelligence and analytics coordinator, respectively. Patrick Dean joined the company in 2007 and Chris Dean in 2013.
Patrick Dean told Greater Lansing Business Monthly that the company is considering ways to emphasize its role as something besides a bus company.
Expanding on his father’s statement, he said, “We’re a community-based organization, and we embrace emerging technologies. We’re ready for what’s coming over the course of the next 10 years and beyond.”
Dean Transportation’s improvements in the realm of school transportation include hybrid electric school buses and a gold-level Green School Bus Fleet certification from NHTSA. But its reach extends beyond school buses. It has worked with the Capital Area Transit Authority to transport the general public and operates Dean Trailways, which offers upscale motor coaches and other luxury vehicles for use by universities, schools and charter groups. Additionally, the company offers black-car services for business, airport and special event transportation, allowing clients to make an impressive and comfortable entrance and exit.
The two Deans’ statements pointing to Dean Transportation as a community organization are borne out by its work with nonprofit groups, many of which focus on the needs of children. Groups with which Dean works or has worked in the past include the United Way, Ele’s Place, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Sparrow Hospital. The company contributes by means of volunteerism, community outreach or sponsorship with an eye toward groups providing educational opportunities to children and families.
In 2017, Dean Transportation joined forces with the Information Technology Empowerment Center to launch the TechTransport Bus. Dean donated the bus that was loaded with a mobile computer lab enabling fourth to eighth graders to try robotics, 3D printing and a mock space launch, among other experiences and innovations.
Kellie Dean summed up how he feels about the company’s accomplishment of lasting so long:
“We are extremely proud to have been an integral part of communities throughout Michigan for the past 50 years. We have worked hard during the past half-century to provide safe and reliable transportation to and from school for 80,000 students every school day. We are committed to further serving our communities and look forward to transporting the children and grandchildren of today’s passengers in the future.”
That future will include the results of the company’s continuing hard work and innovation.