Merle Jewett, director of transportation for the Merced (Calif.) City School District, manages transportation for approximately 600 special-needs students in 48 different educational facilities across an 1,800-square-mile area.
According to Jewett, routing special- needs students is his toughest challenge because they have different babysitters, different pick-up and drop-off sites and every day of the week there is the possibility that the students will be riding a different bus. To deal with these complicated routing duties, the district uses a geographical information system (GIS).
At a state transportation conference, Jewett attended a presentation on a product made by Orem, Utah-based Education Planning Services (EPS). The product, SMARTR, is a stand-alone software system comprising a map-creating program and a bus manager database to more effectively manage transportation systems. It allows the user to apply the software specifically to a school district and use local geographical information and other data.
After acquiring SMARTR, Merced has seen rapid improvement. The program was installed and operational in less than a week, says Jewett. In addition to planning special needs transportation, the district uses the GIS for other responsibilities, including routing regular transportation.
Use of the technology has allowed the district to cut costs by eliminating two buses. GIS systems also make it simple to answer questions from and make presentations to the school board.