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Bringing the school bus into the digital era

How to integrate modern school bus software technology to create efficiencies and boost visibility for students, guardians, and administrators.

Via Transportation •

Despite a host of technology changes that have revolutionized the way educators teach and how school administrators manage processes, mass transportation of students has largely remained unchanged over the past several decades: The big yellow bus trundles around town to pick up and drop off schoolchildren on a predetermined route that rarely varies, even if there’s traffic or road construction. Meanwhile, parents/guardians and school administrators, who are out of the loop as soon as the bus pulls away, cross their fingers and hope the children get to and from school safely and on time.

This analog method remains the status quo, but that’s not because schools don’t want to incorporate modern technologies into their student transportation methods. Rather, it’s because, frankly, it’s a major challenge. That’s not to say adding other new technologies (think classroom management software, laser projectors, tablets, smart whiteboards, cloud libraries and virtual reality learning) has been a piece of cake. But for many schools, transforming transportation has been a tougher nut to crack because of the inherent logistical and physical complexities of safely and efficiently transporting children to and from a school facility across an entire district.

That means the humble school bus has yet to be disrupted — until now. Implementing a comprehensive, automated platform that can handle everything from school bus routing to determining students' locations and driver communication is a smart, simple way for schools to lower transportation costs, create efficiencies, and collect valuable data. There are four main technology pieces that comprise this integrated platform:

Bus and rider hardware components 

Bus drivers use a GPS-enabled tablet that provides turn-by-turn navigation along optimized, dynamically generated routes, as well as indicates the location of each bus. This creates a better understanding of bus locations, wait times, and estimated times of arrival at school or home. In addition to serving as a GPS tracker, the driver tablet also doubles as a QR code scanner. To determine a child’s location, students scan a machine-readable ID badge or key tag each time they board or alight their bus — a process similar to scanning a mobile boarding pass prior to boarding a flight.

Real-time student transportation software and notification system 

The web and mobile interfaces connect all stakeholders — parents/guardians, drivers, school officials — while providing comprehensive map-based visibility and automated updates on real-time bus locations. The interface includes automated notifications for student boardings and alightings, route changes, and vehicle arrivals or delays.

Parents and guardians can see at a glance when the bus is approaching and whether their child is on board. Administrators can monitor bus locations to ensure everything is going according to schedule, and respond to any issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. For drivers, real-time notifications also apply to their student passengers. Today’s school bus technology can keep notes on what students may require extra care and specific parent and caregiver preferences, a functionality that becomes especially important during the all-too-frequent need for a substitute driver. Plus, school districts will benefit from consistent and standardized reporting of system metrics, facilitating operational improvements and regulatory compliance.  

Web-based route management with automated, dynamic vehicle routing

Routing software will optimize routes based on ridership information, service parameters (i.e., specific rules for a stop, bus capacities, specific criteria for Special Needs students, etc.), last-minute changes, and real-time traffic conditions. Using algorithm-based routing software makes it easier and less time-consuming for staff to design efficient routes. The software automatically incorporates all relevant student information when generating routes, such as student home address, school location, bell/tier schedules, allowable ride times, etc. Once the system generates routes, administrators can visualize and modify routes as they see fit, as well as adjust relevant system inputs.

Importantly, these route optimization tools also include dynamic routing functionality, which can immediately process and respond to any substantive change in route inputs, such as real-time traffic information or last-minute changes in student plans (e.g., if a student is home sick from school). By adjusting routes in real-time due to unforeseen circumstances, this routing flexibility allows for significant efficiency gains by, for example, eliminating unnecessary stops and time spent waiting for an absent student, and reducing vehicle miles traveled across the system.

Valuable data analytics and reporting 

Modern schools must use every tool in their toolbox to be efficient, which means relying on data to make informed decisions. That means knowing information like how many students a bus transported in a given day, month or year, or how often specific drivers are late, is critical to improving operations — but schools often rely on educated guesses to estimate these numbers. Drivers and bus operators also benefit from the added layer of data and reporting, allowing them to do their jobs more efficiently. The ability to provide tangible data and easy visibility on a specific route, pickup, or driver improves the relationship with the overall school district.

Now, using a bus-routing software platform to optimize student transportation, schools gain access to data that is impossible to collect or quantify without technology, giving administrators the power to optimize operations and create efficiencies. For example, data points on when students are riding, and how many ride each day and week, creates a log of historical data that will allow administrators to better estimate how many buses and drivers they need at different times of day, ensuring they are never over- or understaffed. The components of an integrated digital platform create three key benefits for school administrators, educators, drivers, and parents:

  • Comprehensive visibility into the location and status of all school buses and students through real-time, GPS-enabled bus tracking and student boarding monitoring. This improves student safety and creates peace of mind for parents, guardians and administrators.
  • Robust and reliable communications regarding system status and unexpected changes. Better communication translates into a more seamless, less stressful experience for the rider and their guardians — and an easier, more efficient way for administrators to manage and deliver student transportation for a school.
  • Optimized operations through highly efficient, automated and flexible bus routing for all student populations — including General Education, Special Education, students with temporary or multiple addresses — in one integrated transportation system. Over time, this enhanced efficiency can be expected to result in meaningful financial savings for a school.
Schools already rely on platform technologies in other operational areas; it’s time to use those same methods to solve the inherent challenges of student transportation. Using an integrated routing and communication platform that is light years beyond legacy technologies will help schools better manage transportation — and bring the analog school bus into the digital era.