Officials at Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) Bureau of Student Transportation Services (BSTS) are developing a request for proposal (RFP) to upgrade its routing system to include all of the operation's business and routing functions, as well as GPS capabilities.
The work required to implement the new system will be completed in four phases, with the goal being that the system will improve the BSTS' efficiency and its service to the approximately 21,600 students it transports, their parents and the district's school staff members.
System functions and capabilities
Francisco Du'Prey, transportation director for CPS, said that the BSTS has been working with routing software that's about 20 years old, so an upgrade became necessary, especially as the staff assessed the bureau's business model, identified deficiencies in it and made process improvements.
"In order to become more effective and efficient, we decided that we need to have a fully integrated business model that allows us to provide services in response to requests a lot quicker than we've done in the past. We want to be able to pay our bus vendors a lot more quickly than we've done in the past and in a way that requires a lot less work than what's required now due to processing invoices," Du'Prey explained.
He added that in a future phase, they want to give parents the ability to make transportation requests in the new system via web access. (Parents will still have the option of going through the district's schools to make their requests.)
In addition, the system will provide access to accident and bus inspection reports, any complaints that the BSTS receives and personnel records for the bus companies that the district contracts with.
Project scope, stakeholder feedback
Du'Prey said that the district has allocated a sufficient amount of funding for the project. He will have a better idea of the cost to implement the new system once the BSTS starts receiving bids from companies in response to the RFP.
During phase one, the bus companies that the district contracts with will be provided with web access to the new routing system and GPS communication will be implemented. Phase two will entail integrating business components into the system, phase three will entail providing parents and schools with web access to the system and phase four will involve implementing additional components.
Diana Skiba, PMP, is a certified project manager consultant from Blackwell Global Consulting LLC and has been retained by CPS to lead the project. She said that the team is focusing on phase one and the RFP. April of 2012 is the targeted implementation date for phase one to allow time for training for everyone who will be using the system.
In terms of phase one, Skiba said that communication meetings have been held with all of the project's stakeholders, such as the personnel in CPS' BSTS, the information technology department and the employees at the bus companies that the district contracts with in order for them to understand the direction in which the project is headed.
"We wanted the bus company vendors to feel welcome to provide feedback. Each of these meetings was an opportunity to show them what we were thinking of and to get feedback on their concerns and what issues were important to them," Skiba said.
Varsha Gaddam, a consultant working with Viva USA Inc., was hired as a business analyst by CPS to gather, create and write requirements for the RFP. She also prepared the topics for each of the communication meetings. Gaddam worked with Molly Mangan, a consultant from Even Keel Strategies Inc. Mangan, who is experienced with GIS and GPS, designed and developed the requirements for the GIS and GPS interfaces.
"To gather requirements from the bus company vendors' point of view, we held web access, GPS and invoicing facilitation meetings and created a questionnaire to gather additional information," Gaddam said.
Gaddam added that one feature that is planned for the new system based on a request from one bus company is to gather more information when parents are filling out a transportation request. This will reduce processing time and eliminate delays that might otherwise result due to a lack of information, allowing the staff to easily process the request.
Accompanying district policy, procedural changes
In anticipation of the new routing system being fully operational, Du'Prey said CPS' BSTS has already implemented several changes to its policies and procedures. Previously, the operation had two people who were responsible for creating school bus routes. Now, 22 employees from the companies that the operation contracts with perform the routing.
"We're training them with anticipation that when the web access part of the project is implemented, they will have experience routing students in a system that's not fully automated, but that gets us one step further than where we were before," he said, noting that having the employees from the bus companies perform the routing has enabled the bureau staff to address requests and inquiries more quickly.
"One policy change made has to do with children who are undeliverable. We'll hold parents and schools more accountable for children who can't be delivered to their homes because there's not a responsible adult there at the time of delivery," Du'Prey said.
He added that the bureau holds the personnel at its contracted bus companies more accountable for their performance. "We proposed substantial changes to our transportation contract," Du'Prey said. "The contract reflects a lot of performance metrics that we didn't have before."