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July 27, 2010  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Why Miles Matter

A veteran transportation director discusses the importance of reducing fuel use — and how to make it happen.

by John P. Fahey

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Author John Fahey says that using less fuel is not just a matter of fiscal savings; it also impacts our environment, foreign policy and the future.

How to control miles
Transportation directors are often left out of the loop on major factors that create their service requirements, such as the student assignment plan, bell schedules and the locations of schools or programs. This does not mean that the transportation director should give up on trying to infl uence these important issues.

If not included in the design or placement of a major new transportation requirement, the transportation director should of course respond first with service that fully supports the program but also with an analysis of the associated costs and cost-savings options to be considered in the future. We should use a “Here’s what you asked me to do, and here are the associated costs as a result” type of approach so that the decision-makers understand the impacts of their choices for the next time.

There are many ways of limiting miles, however, that are fully within the control of the transportation director.

• You’ve got to get 500 children to a certain school. Can you do this with 10 buses? Does it take you 12 buses? 14? Your routing scenarios are governed by the external constraints of bell schedules, geography and assignment plan, but within those constraints you have the ability to use your tools, your skills and your experience to create the absolutely most efficient routing plan that could exist for that school.

• Your bus leaves the yard in the morning and travels to its first pickup. Is that first pickup close to the originating yard or perhaps closer to another yard? The bus drops at its first school and heads to its second run of the morning. Is the first pickup of the second run close to the first school or perhaps closer to another of the early tier schools? The bus makes its run into its second school of the morning. Is the run assigned to a bus whose mid-day yard is in the direction of the second school of the morning?

Yard to first pickup. First school to first pickup on second run. Second school back to yard. All three of these travel distances are examples of deadhead mileage that we can control. At Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Schools, I was able to maintain a 65-percent live to 35-percent deadhead mileage ratio through careful attention to these assignments.

• You create your carefully constructed route, you send the driver out with his or her schedule of lefts and rights, and you might expect that you’ve done your job. But is the driver actually running the route as you have directed, or is he or she running it “the way I’ve always run it,” possibly adding extra miles to each day’s usage? Following buses has never been practical. The only way you can know for sure is to use a GPS tool that will give you the ability to monitor your drivers’ adherence to their scheduled routes.

• A bus burns a gallon of fuel for each 60 minutes of idling. Think your drivers are not idling out there? As with adherence to your scheduled routes, the use of GPS monitoring is the only sure way to affect this critical element of driver behavior.

• One driver routinely gets 8 miles per gallon while another gets only 6.5 miles per gallon on the same model bus. Is it the driver, is it theft, is it excessive idling, is it a mechanical problem on the bus? The only way to know is to first make sure that you are capturing this level of detail to begin with, and then to dig deeper into the details.

The days of sending a driver out with just a list of stops should be only a memory for the old timers among us. There is a tremendous level of technology readily available to transportation directors today to assist with the efficient management of their fleets. You need the tools, the skills and, most importantly, the will to run your buses using the lowest amount of fuel necessary to accomplish your responsibilities.

Call to action
Using less fuel is not just a matter of fiscal savings; it also impacts our environment, foreign policy and the future. Every gallon we save creates one fewer reason for us to rely on others for the basic resources we need to run our schools.

Our primary job is to provide service to children. Is it much of a stretch to say that our kids will be inheriting a world from us in 20 years that will be greatly affected by the decisions we make today? I hope that all of us will make a pledge to ourselves to use less fuel next school year compared to what we used this year.

Talk to your administrators about the efficient scheduling and placement of programs. Reassess your policies on the extra trips you make. Take a hard look at your routing plan to make sure you are providing your required service with the right number and most efficient routes possible. Scrutinize your bus connections to make sure that your deadhead mileage is as tight as it can possibly be. Make sure your drivers are following their routes. Teach your drivers responsible driving habits to conserve fuel and develop ways to monitor their compliance. Figure out a way to get the data you need to manage your fuel usage.

As an industry, we need to do this for our children. Let’s get serious on this in 2010 so that our children will have one fewer thing to worry about in 2030.

John P. Fahey was in charge of the Buffalo Public Schools transportation program for 18 years. He joined the Tyler’s Versatrans Solution team as a consultant at the start of 2010. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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