Software Keeps Fleets Running Smoothly

Kelly Roher, Assistant Editor
Posted on June 1, 2007
A maintenance technician from Lenawee Intermediate School District in Adrian, Mich., uses Dolphin Fleet Management software to organize the district’s bus fleet.
A maintenance technician from Lenawee Intermediate School District in Adrian, Mich., uses Dolphin Fleet Management software to organize the district’s bus fleet.

If you ask individuals in school bus maintenance staffs, many of them will say that fleet maintenance software has made their job much easier. These programs can do everything from notifying mechanics when bus parts need to be reordered to helping them organize their inventory.

Often, cost is the main factor that establishes which system a school bus operation's mechanics will use. Most school districts face budget constraints, so transportation officials look for a system that will provide their maintenance staff with the best services for a reasonable price. Fortunately, there are a variety of software programs on the market that fit this description.

Easy installation
Danny Hicks, a mechanic for Socorro Consolidated Schools (N.M.), says that his district's mechanics have been using EasyBus transportation software since 2000. Previously, they kept all bus-related records on paper. While this system worked for a time, the maintenance staff realized that they needed a more efficient record-keeping system. This drove the district to purchase EasyBus software. According to Hicks, it was a worthwhile investment. He says EasyBus' support staff walked him through the installation process and helped him learn how to use it. To that end, he says it "is easy to learn and easy to use."

The same can be said for VersaTrans FleetVision software. Justin Wilczynski, assistant transportation director at Clark-Pleasant Community Schools in Whiteland, Ind., says a technician from VersaTrans installed the program on his and the other transportation supervisors' computers. He also says that they were able to program much of the software themselves and that they could have performed installation themselves — "it was that easy to install."

Terry Swanger, head mechanic of Spencerport (N.Y.) Central School District, echoes Hicks' and Wilczynski's comments when discussing Transfinder fm. "I've looked at quite a few of the other programs that are out there, and I like this one the best because it's simple to use," he says. Furthermore, Swanger says that one of its benefits is that it is networked — once the system has been installed on someone's desktop, he or she can access any part of the program.

Low-cost software
In addition to its accessibility, one of the reasons Swanger's district purchased this software was its affordability. "With budget cuts the way they are around here, it took us several years to actually get a program to go through our budget," he says.

Campbell County Schools in Alexandria, Ky., has faced financial strains as well. Virgil Miller, the vehicle maintenance manager, says that it began using Diamond Connection Solutions in the mid-1990s. "The other software that we'd been using was more expensive than the Diamond Connection software," he says. "Diamond Connection was more in our price range — each module was around $300, and updates and technical support are free."

Todd Armstrong, the coordinator of fleet maintenance operations for Lenawee Intermediate School District in Adrian, Mich., maintains that his district has faced severe budget cuts, so it began using Dolphin Fleet Management software in 2005 because it was inexpensive. "Another big factor that led us to choose this program is that it is tailored toward the school bus maintenance industry," he says.

Inventory tracking and more
These maintenance software programs offer myriad services. VersaTrans FleetVision can provide an overview of bus maintenance costs and keep bus parts organized, and it is compatible with other products (such as GPS tracking systems). For these reasons, Wilczynski believes this software provides the "perfect marriage between transportation and fleet maintenance."

Meanwhile, EasyBus can customize trip schedules and create driver itineraries. Hicks notes that one of the best features of EasyBus is its ability to keep track of their supply budget. He also finds the warning reports useful. "It used to be difficult to monitor when bus parts needed to be reordered," he says. "By using EasyBus, we don't miss anything anymore. It notifies us when parts need to be changed or reordered, and when maintenance needs to be performed."

{+PAGEBREAK+} Transfinder fm performs similar tasks. For example, it also tracks inventory. Swanger benefits from this feature. He has the program set so that he receives a notification when he is running low on certain supplies, or if he has run out. He appreciates its scheduling options as well — he uses it to organize his daily itinerary.

Like Hicks and Swanger, Miller has nothing but positive things to say about his maintenance software. He appreciates Diamond Connection Solutions' barcode system. "We barcode every part that comes in and then the parts are put on the shelves and are dated so that we know exactly how much is in inventory," he says. "Diamond Connection gives me a list of what parts we have on hand."

Among other things, Dolphin Fleet Management software can track scheduled maintenance, as well as analyze and track vendor's prices. Armstrong believes its best feature has been its ability to control his fleet's inventory. "This software has controlled our inventory better than we'd been able to in the past," he says. "We've lowered our inventory by approximately $20,000 just by keeping better track of it."

No formal training needed
Armstrong also notes that this system is very user-friendly, saying, "Our techs didn't receive any formal training to learn how to use this program. There were a couple of phone calls that had to be made to the tech support team to get around maybe six sticky spots but otherwise, everything was easy to learn."

The same can be said for the other programs. As head mechanic of his district's maintenance team, Swanger is currently the only individual who uses Transfinder fm — the other technicians generate repair orders and Swanger enters the information into the program. However, he says, "Once we really get used to using this, I would like the guys to create their own work orders, and I think that it's going to be easy for them to learn how to use it because there's not a lot to it."

Wilczynski's transportation department operates in a similar way. He says district transportation supervisors enter the data given to them by the mechanics. However, like Swanger, Wilczynski says that they plan to have the mechanics learn how to use the FleetVision software "somewhere down the road," and that although they will need some training, he says they will be able to familiarize themselves with it "in no time."

When a technician from International Truck and Engine Corporation (Diamond Connection Solutions' publisher) installed the software on Miller's and his staff's computers, the technician entered all of the information for the fleet's buses into the system. Then he showed them how to access and use the system. Miller says, "This software has been great. And every so often — maybe once a year — if there's a new update, the techs come out and install it for us."

Utilizing technical support
Technical support staff for these software systems not only help mechanics with installation, they are also readily available to assist individuals when they have questions or problems. This is another reason why Hicks enjoys using EasyBus. He says, "The EasyBus tech team bends over backward to help customers. They really make you feel welcome to ask questions." Hicks adds that the one time he had a problem ("There wasn't anything wrong with the system — I had entered a mileage incorrectly," he says), the support staff had the problem fixed "within five minutes."

Likewise, Swanger says the Transfinder fm technical support is "fabulous." According to Swanger, this program offers a service called "net meeting." While on the phone with a tech, a mechanic simply logs on to the support staff's Website, clicks on a link labeled "Go to Meeting" and enters his or her e-mail address and a password that has been provided by the technician. Then the tech goes into the mechanic's program and fixes the problem.

Changing with the times
Despite the benefits that come from using fleet maintenance software, some transportation authorities may still be hesitant to purchase one. Armstrong was initially slightly hesitant to "run in the same direction as everyone else," and he recognizes that some smaller school districts may find it just as easy to manage their fleets using a non-electronic system. But he adds that "even a smaller school district would benefit from using a program like Dolphin Fleet because it doesn't take long to recover your investment."

Miller says the time-saving nature of the software is invaluable. "I can be on the floor more, I can help my guys and I can check on my buses — it makes everything a lot easier," he says.

"If you aren't willing to adapt to the technological changes in the world of transportation, you're going to end up falling farther behind,” Wilczynski says. "It's really important for people who work in transportation to recognize that technology is a crucial aspect of the industry. It's the key to ongoing safety and success."

Comments ( 0 )
More Stories

SOS Alert Device

The Mobile Defender – Model S is a small device that employers can give to employees to use as a panic button during their shifts.

VAT runs a fleet of 80 school buses in Ohio.

Contractors Connect on Recruiting Strategies, Fuel Outlook

Four school bus operators from four states find common ground in dealing with driver shortage, tapping into the benefits of GPS and video cameras, and assessing fuel options. For the most part, they’re sticking with diesel for now, but one is seeing success with an electric bus.


Heat Recycling System

Idle Free Heat uses residual heat from the engine to keep the interior of the bus warm, circulating the heat through the vents when the bus is turned off.

Be the First to Know

Get the latest news and most popular articles from SBF delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the school bus industry and don't miss a thing!