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April 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Software Systems Offer Diverse Features

Suppliers of routing software are beefing up their products to help optimize bus operations, from enhancing safety measures to managing more special needs to increasing support and training.

by Thomas McMahon, Senior Editor


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While computer software isn’t new to the pupil transportation industry, it’s becoming more involved in the range of elements that make up school bus operations. Routing software itself has been expanding to manage more data that can help ensure safe and efficient service for schoolchildren. Here’s a look at some of the top routing systems and the features they have to offer.

EDULOG
Education Logistics Inc. (EDULOG) of Missoula, Mont., offers several scalable versions of its software to suit varying needs in routing.

Mike Darling, senior vice president of business development, says that EDULOG’s features help maintain the safety of students in a number of ways. One of the system’s hallmarks is the concept of limiting student assignment to bus stops based on safety criteria, which include not crossing major roads, right-side pickups only and special hazard zones.

This year, EDULOG introduced a feature that alerts operators to the presence of sexual predators, drug houses, industrial waste sites and other hazardous locations.

Also helping to bolster safety is a module called WebSchoolAssistant. During an emergency, this component lets school staff quickly determine how many kids are on a bus, who they are and how to contact their parents.

In special-needs transportation, EDULOG’s routing software considers possible student constraints, such as ride time and distance, type of disability and equipment needed on the bus. The system then verifies that all routes and schedules meet student needs and vehicle capabilities — whether bus assignments are entered manually or decided automatically by the system.

Darling stresses the importance of being trained in the software processes. “We believe that the human element is just as important as the actual software to the client’s success,” he says.

In that regard, the company offers unlimited training, regional and national seminars, ASP maintenance and operation services and on-site project management.

Noteworthy options available for pupil transportation providers include — but are not limited to — GPS, financial management and field trip applications.

“If the school district has a need, EDULOG will provide the solution,” Darling says.

Transfinder
Transfinder, based in Schenectady, N.Y., provides a routing system called Transfinder Pro.

Antonio Civitella, president and CEO, says the company’s flagship software provides complete control over all aspects of transportation operations.

He says that emphasis on factors such as driving directions, stops, speeds and other safety concerns allows “the maneuverability and power to do the job you need to do.”

Along the lines of safety, the software displays hazard zones instantly, prevents bus overcrowding and makes right-side pickups and drop-offs easy. Another important feature identifies the residences of sex offenders and helps create buffers around them.

Built into the routing software are elements that help in meeting passengers’ special needs. Those who use wheelchairs are easily designated and clearly visible on the routing map, which helps ensure that their transportation accommodations are properly met.

“The software also lets you specify different pickup and drop-off sites for each day of the week, which makes even the most complicated arrangements manageable,” Civitella adds.

{+PAGEBREAK+} Transfinder offers an array of training for its clients. A transportation-software learning center is available for year-round instruction. Additionally, the company will train operators at their location, online or through Internet-accessible tutorials.

As complements to Transfinder Pro, the company offers a pair of programs that can further increase efficiency. With Transfinder le (light edition), transportation data can be made available through an Intranet to drivers, administrators and teachers within the district. Transfinder i (Internet) makes mapping, school and stop information accessible to parents and students in the community.

Other options for customizing the software include re-districting, GPS and telephony.

Trapeze
Trapeze Software Group, headquartered in Beachwood, Ohio, offers the MapNet routing system.

Clint Rooley, director of sales, says that the program takes aim at safety by managing a comprehensive assortment of street-type data. For instance, the software keeps tabs on which streets are not suitable for walking and which children should not cross streets.

“You have incredible control over making sure which kids do or do not cross streets,” Rooley says. “And it does that at any number of levels, so you could have junior kindergartners not cross while senior kindergartners do cross.”

The Trapeze software provides various capacities to assist in special-needs transportation, which Rooley says is the biggest challenge in routing because of the mobility of the students.

“Many students with special needs don’t just go from home to school and back again,” Rooley says. “They can have all kinds of shuttles in between, and they may do different things every day of the week.”

Accordingly, the routing system keeps track of these types of day-to-day transportation requirements as well as what a student needs on the bus, such as a wheelchair lift, oxygen or an aide.

Trapeze offers a number of modifications that transportation professionals can choose from, many of which were developed through requests. One is a parent-pay module, which Rooley says is especially popular in California. Another, called Route Requester, allows schools to ask for transportation.

The company provides ongoing support as a part of the maintenance fees associated with the software. Also included is a basic training package, which takes anywhere from five to eight days to complete.

VersaTrans
VersaTrans Solutions Inc. in Latham, N.Y., provides routing software known as VersaTrans RP.

Marketing Director Terri Fallon says one of the system’s highlights is its certification with the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), a consortium of software vendors that serve schools. With an SIF zone installed, data for each student only needs to be entered once. Then it’s automatically shared with all databases, such as transportation and food service, that are tied into the framework.

Fallon also points to a software feature called RP Today, which gives automatic notifications on a number of data. Included in these updates are which routes are exceeding a specified time and how many are under-loaded.

“It also provides time-sensitive employee data, like certifications that are coming due for drug testing or safety training,” Fallon adds.

A number of elements built into the software help avoid dangerous situations along routes. Users can designate right-side-only stops, identify certain streets as hazardous and ensure that stops are age appropriate. The system can even go so far as to denote where crossing guards are located and where there are sidewalk breaches.

VersaTrans provides on-site training that comes standard with the software, and online courses are also available. Technical support is offered via toll-free phone calls and e-mail.

But perhaps the most interesting support feature is through an application called WebEx. For complex problems, tech support reps log into a Website to access the user’s computer.

Fallon explains: “Then we can either take control to run diagnostics and look at their data, or we can watch them maneuvering and say, ‘Oh, that’s what you’re doing wrong.’”


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