With advances in routing software becoming more affordable and accessible to school bus operators, getting kids to school and back home safely and on time is becoming a little easier. Here are several systems that make this possible.
Charles Crane and Linda Hager, owners of Bus Master Software in Bucyrus, Kan., know there’s a lot of routing software out there. Despite the many alternatives they’ve come across, they feel that theirs is one of the most user-friendly.
“We run into accounts where they’ve been using routing software and they just quit because of the difficulty factors, the training, the costs. Probably 50 percent of our installs had previously been using another routing software,” Crane says. “The biggest sell point we have is ease of use and service.”
Recent enhancements include MapPoint integration (which can be used with any GPS system), a fleet maintenance support zone upgrade and a complete section for special-needs passengers and data. The software provides easy access to information such as student conduct, fleet maintenance, reportable mileage and activity trips. Special utilities are also available for smaller operations if transportation officials just want to upgrade a particular school or grade level.
“With a couple of clicks, they can basically go through and upgrade their whole file and make their new adds and add their kindergartners,” Crane says.
Base price for the standard Bus Master edition is $3,500, which includes one year of technical support and updates. After the first year, tech support is $250 annually. The software can cost as much as $5,000.
Mike Darling, vice president of Education Logistics Inc. (EDULOG) in Missoula, Mont., believes GPS technology has had a big impact on the evolution of routing software.
“We see GPS technology as fundamentally revolutionizing software from the ground up as a completely new mechanism for automated data acquisition and for creating better efficiency in routing software and actually increasing the accuracy of the data that all routing software currently operates on,” Darling says.
Among the company’s newest products is EduTracker, an automatic vehicle location (AVL) program that has full two-way integration with routing software. EDULOG has also recognized the need to extend software beyond the server and develop applications that are on the school buses themselves.
“We’ll have the GPS system where there’s a software application that’s actually on that unit, or maybe it’s just a cell phone-based GPS where we actually have a software application running on the phone,” Darling says. “Or in conjunction with those things, we have solutions like our mobile data terminal (MDT) so that drivers can actually have transportation and/or student information pushed from the routing software out onto the MDT.”
Carter Young, EDULOG sales support manager, says the company has also developed an ASP program, whereby it hosts the software for school bus operators and essentially performs most of the duties that traditional routers and schedulers would do.
Pricing depends upon the size of the operation, but it ranges from a few thousand dollars for smaller sites to hundreds of thousands of dollars for larger ones.
According to GEOREF Systems Ltd. in Waterloo, Ontario, the routing market is evolving based on need. While some operations need technology involving GPS or other advanced features, others require more economical, user-friendly tools designed to save time, labor and money.
Among the technologies being developed and perfected by GEOREF as part of a complete routing solution are GPS, direct links to student systems, bus fleet management and management analysis and accounting.
“Our primary focus is to provide a package that is easy to implement, learn and use,” says GEOREF’s Drew Weeks. “We listen intently to our clients’ needs and provide them with the solutions that they need in a way that they can use and understand.”
Recent enhancements include management analysis, tools for route costing and improved optimization of routes.
GEOREF’s Donald Linders says unlike other systems where situations like student transfers can be difficult and time-consuming to track, his system handles them automatically. Linders adds that the Automatic Transfer Management feature also includes extensive reporting facilities for transfers and those students who use them.
Pricing varies according to size of the operation, scale and options, but the company says that it is competitive with other vendors.
Arlington, Va.-based MicroAnalytics Inc. offers BUSTOPS, a multi-route optimization program that is run using individual time parameters. According to Sales Manager Mary Buchanan, school bus operations are finding that routing software has more benefits than it did in the past.
Software capabilities include producing safety reports that show whether a child has crossed a road to get to the stop and designating safe places for a child to stand while waiting for the bus.
Routing software can also be tied into other systems, such as GPS, which includes features such as updating map databases, historical data for bus incidents, management tools for tracking and analyzing route data, measuring the performance of route buses and verifying route mileage for funding reports.
BUSTOPS’ clients influence the company’s ideas for enhancements. “We encourage clients to send in suggestions about their needs, and then as we get ready to start the programming of a new version, we poll clients to prioritize the importance of these suggestions,” Buchanan says.
Pricing ranges from $4,990 to $9,950 for a system with full multi-route capabilities and boundary planning analysis.
Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Schenectady, N.Y.-based Transfinder, believes the market for routing software has evolved over the past few years, with software being driven by mapping technology and GPS.
“People are demanding more out of routing software. GPS is driving efficiencies and data-tracking, and it’s going to be pushing routing software to a higher demand,” Civitella says.
While he says that many school bus operations are not using routing software, there are also those that have purchased products but haven’t followed through in implementing them because of difficulty factors. Transfinder’s goal is to teach school bus operations about the software so that they begin to use it.
“Our product is based on Microsoft technology. If someone knows how to use one or two Microsoft products, they can take the same knowledge and apply it to Transfinder,” Civitella says.
Recent enhancements include an SQL server with Internet activity, which has given Transfinder the opportunity to work with larger school bus operations that need the more demanding features, like GPS.
Pricing ranges from a few thousand dollars to as much as $100,000.
Clint Rooley, director of sales for Trapeze Software Group in Beachwood, Ohio, considers the market to be very mature, with vendors all providing similar things. Having been in the industry 22 years, he says that the vast majority of school bus operations don’t have a lot of use for significant routing products, and those that do need them already have them.
To keep up with competitors, all of the company’s products are modified every year, taking into consideration feedback from clients. And although GPS/AVL improves routing and scheduling, Rooley believes that its use should be more focused on driving operations.
“We’re still doing all the things everybody else is doing in terms of enhancing the routing and scheduling world, but from a software provider background here, no one has really attacked operations,” Rooley says. “We’re trying to provide dispatch with a set of management tools so they can make very good decisions rather than rely on second-hand information.”
Pricing is based on a sliding scale, with the minimum being $100 a month, plus a $1,000 upfront charge.
Market research from VersaTrans Solutions Inc. in Latham, N.Y., indicates that the majority of school bus operations are not currently using bus routing software. But those that do use routing software are looking for more advanced features and capabilities.
Joe Hasan, product manager, says that routing software is being integrated with more and more systems these days, the latest being GPS technology.
“We can now compare the planned bus route with the current position and path that a bus is taking in real-time,” Hasan says. VersaTrans OnScreen is the company’s GPS-based fleet management tool, which integrates data received from virtually any source within the routing data in VersaTrans RP.
“This integration allows for real-time monitoring of buses and drivers, as well as the ability to perform statistical analysis regarding the performance and accuracy of their bus routes,” Hasan adds.
VersaTrans RP is a complete routing and planning solution for developing school bus schedules, mapping routes, planning district boundaries and responding to ongoing changes in schedules and student population. The latest updates have been in the sexual predator tracking function and associated reports, along with enhancing the integration of VersaTrans RP and the rest of the company’s products.
Price is based upon the value that the company provides to the operation, as well as the size of the operation.