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January 01, 2007  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Great Fleets Across America 2007

To further recognize the invaluable service provided by the nation’s pupil transportation programs, we present the seventh installment of our “Great Fleets” series. Find out how this year’s 10 outstanding operations have raised the bar in safety, efficiency, maintenance and other areas.


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Orange County Public Schools' fleet is configured with some of the top technology available today, including a state-of-the-art radio system that is connected to the county's public safety network.

 

Technology Pioneers of the ‘Lightning Capital’ Frontier

Orange County Public Schools
Orlando, Fla.

Orange County Public Schools’ history is as vibrant as those famed Floridian sunrises and sets. The nation’s 11th largest school district blazes toward the future while remaining true to the county’s founders’ pioneering and forward-thinking spirit.

Frontiersmen and women first staked claim to the subtropical land in the 1840s. They quickly developed a small community and shortly afterward established churches and a means to educate their children. The first school board was formed in 1869.

But the pioneer spirit ran deep, and many migrated onward or to new locations within the settlement. As a deterrent designed to prevent the proliferation of the tiny schools, a law was passed requiring children to attend the nearest school. If the parents failed to comply, they forfeited their right to vote. The deterrent worked, the schools stabilized and grew, and the first “formal” transportation department was launched in the 1900s. The preferred mode of pupil transportation? A horse-drawn cart.

Times have most certainly changed for Orange County Public Schools’ transportation department. The district serves 170 schools, employs 1,745 individuals, operates a 1,473-bus fleet and transports 70,788 of the area’s 177,308 students, who hail from 179 countries and speak 137 different dialects and languages.

Orlando as a community has changed too. The centrally located city is an economic hub attracting national and international tourists. It also attracts its share of unpredictable weather — hurricanes, sudden thunderstorms and at times fatal heat waves.

“We are the lightning capital of the world due to the convergence of Atlantic and Gulf winds,” says T. Arby Creach, the transportation department’s senior administrator. “We can expect tornados any time a thundershower is in the area. Needless to say, all our drivers are trained to deal with these conditions.”

While Creach’s drivers are well prepared to navigate both Orlando’s overcrowded streets and unpredictable weather, according to Creach the visiting tourists are ill-equipped for the task. Traffic accidents are numerous and the norm. As such, student safety and rapid accessibility to emergency assistance is paramount and cutting-edge technology is the superglue that holds it all together.

Currently, the entire fleet is being fitted with GPS devices, providing the drivers the assurance that in an emergency situation the bus’ location is immediately established and help is en route. The fleet is also configured with “state-of-the-art” 700-900 Mhz radios operating on the county public safety network. Fleet managers’ vehicles are configured with wireless, mounted laptop computer systems and a pilot RFID student tracking system is being test-driven.

“We operate the largest and most technologically advanced public transportation system in central Florida,” says Creach. “Our buses travel more than 17 million miles annually. We are an economic powerhouse and a far cry from the meager beginnings of 1869.”

—ALISON BLASKO

Fleet Facts
Buses: 1,473
Students transported daily: 70,788
Total students in district: 177,308
Schools served: 170
Transportation staff: 1,745
Area of service: 850 square miles
Average driver wage: $15/hour

 

 


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