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August 16, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Finding multiple ways to generate revenue

Bus companies and school district transportation departments are making $50,000 to more than $2 million through such efforts as inter-district service, school bus ridership fees and bus advertising. Here, officials discuss the specifics of these programs and other work that brings in extra money.

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Miller Transportation's branch in Indianapolis provides transportation services during the local parks and recreation's summer camps. This type of work has helped to raise more than $2 million for the bus company.

Miller Transportation's branch in Indianapolis provides transportation services during the local parks and recreation's summer camps. This type of work has helped to raise more than $2 million for the bus company.

With states across the nation cutting funding for education and education-related programs, money is tight for many operations.

Faced with this economic climate, pupil transporters at bus companies and school districts are coming up with ways to generate additional revenue, with promising results.

Operations from California to Indiana have raised $50,000 to more than $2 million through such efforts as establishing a mutual transportation agreement, permitting advertising on the exterior of their buses, providing transportation for organizations in their communities and implementing
a bus fee program.

Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colo., for instance, became the first school district in the state to charge a fee for bus service last fall. So far, the district has made $1.4 million, according to Director of Transportation Paul Balon, all of which is going toward the district's transportation department.

"Fee for service is here to stay. We were the first school district in the state to implement this kind of system, but now, for this coming school year, there are about seven other school districts that are getting ready to charge a fee. As the budgets dwindle, you have to find ways to generate revenue and offset some of the costs," Balon says.

Positive response to per-ride bus fee system
Under the program at Douglas County School District, the bus fee is based on usage rather than being a fl at price. The district is using Zonar Systems' ZPass system to track students on and off the bus and to charge 50 cents each way, with a maximum of $1 per day. The maximum that a parent would be charged for an entire school year is $173.

A reader for Zonar Systems' ZPass system is installed in each of Castle Rock, Colo.-based Douglas County School District's buses. The technology is used to track students on and off the bus as part of a per-ride bus fee system.
<p>A reader for Zonar Systems' ZPass system is installed in each of Castle Rock, Colo.-based Douglas County School District's buses. The technology is used to track students on and off the bus as part of a per-ride bus fee system.</p>

Each student has a ZPass card, and a reader is installed on each bus. When students board and disembark the bus, it is recorded into the ZPass reader.

"That Zpass information is downloaded into our Oracle system and from there, our Infinite Campus application determines what is and is not a chargeable ride," Balon explains.

He notes that the district's school bus ridership dropped by about 2,000 students when the per-ride fee system was implemented. Balon anticipated that might happen; however, he says that the district has since gained those 2,000 riders back. He attributes it to the rise in the price of fuel and parents not wanting to sit in bad traffic, especially during the winter months when the weather is undesirable.

"It costs us about $900 to transport one student for an entire year, and when parents see that they're only paying $173 of that, a lot of them have said that they understand and that it's a good value received," he adds.

Bus advertising brings in money for district's schools
Southeast of Colorado, in Texas, Houston Independent School District (ISD) is bringing in extra money through advertisements that run on the outside of the district's more than 1,000 buses.

When officials reviewed the district's budget last December, they recognized they were facing a budget shortfall across the board for education, according to Nathan Graf, general manager of transportation services at Houston ISD. School bus advertising was presented as an option to alleviate the shortfall, and the district's school board approved it in January. A contract was finalized in February, and the first advertisements arrived in April.

Graf says that while the ads ran during the last few months of the 2010-11 school year, they helped generate between $50,000 and $70,000.

"We expect that for the 2011-12 school year, conservatively, it will generate a little under $250,000. We hope in the following school year, it will be close to $500,000 and then continue to go up," he adds, saying that the money goes toward the district's schools for teaching supplies or other items needed at the campus level.

Houston ISD partnered with Steep Creek Media to offer advertising space on its buses. Steep Creek reaches out to companies on behalf of the district to find out whether officials there would be interested in placing ads on the buses.

A policy developed by the school board regulates what type of ads can run on the buses. As with other districts that permit school bus advertising, ads that have content of an adult or political nature are not allowed on Houston ISD buses.

Graf says that a committee — one person from transportation, one person from academics, one person from the district's legal team, one person from the media department and one person from senior administration — reviews all of the ads that come in to ensure that they are suitable for placement on the buses.

So far, the ads on Houston ISD buses have been from nonprofit organizations, such as the YMCA.

"We've had one ad from a nonprofit called the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center and it involves getting kids to recognize the importance of going to college," Graf says.

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