Lee Lindsay of Lee County (Ala.) Schools says he got into computer routing to make transportation as efficient as it could be, but other benefits quickly began to surface.
Lindsay explained that he got into computer routing because of doubts that the current system of transportation was as efficient as it could be. But other benefits quickly began to surface. The use of these key data as they related to school redistricting was invaluable as the school district underwent a major change in school/grade combinations.
Much the same, I was involved in convincing school superintendents to volunteer for North Carolina's computer routing program — before it became mandatory in 1992. While transportation directors easily recognized the importance of maintaining bus stops and routes electronically, the superintendents and local boards (who ultimately made the decision) were most attracted by the ability to graphically analyze the composition of students in various geographical regions of the district.
Locating sex offenders
A list of locations of convicted sex offenders is just as easy to geocode (address-match) as the list of students to be transported. Since this is of such concern to parents, it only makes sense to use those identified locations when establishing bus stops.
Several of today's routing systems include options to alert the routing specialist when a stop is created within a specified distance of a sex offender location, and they can even store specifics of the age and gender of the victims (e.g., "convicted of molesting females, ages 6 and 16").
Describing another side benefit of computer routing, Lindsay vividly recalls a conversation with a grandmother related to the bus stop to which her granddaughter would be assigned. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said to him, after being made aware of the nearby location of a known sex offender.
Regardless of whether the bus stop can be moved or must be located nearby, the mere knowledge that the potential danger exists is important to parents and caregivers.
In light of a significantly mobile population in Lee County — exacerbated by the presence of a military base — there are many parents who are unaware that known sex offenders might be living nearby.
"Sharing this information is something that doesn't cost us extra money but is very, very much appreciated by parents," Lindsay says.
The first national illegal stop-arm passing count, conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), noted nearly 77,000 motorists illegally passing about 112,000 school buses participating in the project. This is a national problem that can be addressed locally.
By definition, stop-arm violations take place at bus stops. Routing systems maintain location information on bus stops, so the process of generating maps showing incidents reported by drivers is quite simple. These maps can then be passed along to local law enforcement agencies for their use in stepped-up enforcement, school bus ride-alongs, etc.
Knowing where the problems occur is step one. Sharing that information is a big step two.
In fact, there is so much information in a computer routing system that it seems a real shame to use it for a single purpose. There is a good deal of effort required to get a routing system up and running, calibrated and reliable. So why stop there?
The performance indicators, redistricting, sex offenders and illegal-passing examples described here are just a few applications where these basic — yet extensive — data can be used and shared for the overall benefit of transportation departments and the students they serve.
Derek Graham, an SBF editorial advisory board member, has been the state pupil transportation director in North Carolina for 16 years. He is a past president of NASDPTS.