For school transportation directors, efficient fleet tracking and monitoring means having constant, on-demand access to transportation data. Whether directors are utilizing data management platforms or route scheduling software, implementing technology into their daily routine further enhances their ability to conduct maintenance and performance operations.
“There’s a huge undertaking of people analyzing data in the real world and practical world of routing,” said Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, a transportation management systems supplier. “Having data accessible and mapping capabilities, for example, when there is an accident, being able to pull up that information quickly is really useful.”
A number of companies that offer fleet management tools have created and adapted software to help school transportation directors maintain their operations as well as the influx of data they receive. Technology from the companies listed below, such as real-time GPS tracking, telematics, and live video streaming, can potentially benefit transportation directors, especially while working offsite.
Transfinder’s Routefinder PLUS is a browser-based solution that provides fleet managers the ability to create safe and reliable bus routes. Using ESRI technology, managers can generate custom maps, directions, and boundary planning, as well as establish specific routing points.
“We have introduced the term ‘smart routing,’” Civitella says. “We let our clients do the route changes any time they want. Even before the school year is over, they can start planning and simulate what their bus routes will be for the next school year.”
Transfinder recently introduced Routefinder GO, an app-based solution that offers similar mapping capabilities as PLUS, but via a mobile device. Stakeholders can send instant messages as well as communicate directly with emergency responders and parents if there is an accident, bus delay, or any other serious event.
“Whenever I have a problem in the field or a student got on the wrong bus, [Routefinder GO] allows the driver to call their road supervisor, and they can look up where they are supposed to go and get a child home safely,” says Richard Gallagher, the director of transportation for Bay Shore (N.Y.) Schools.
Gallagher adds that because Routefinder GO is an app, it provides the “missing link” for his transportation department when accessing routing information remotely.
“When you’re at an outside scene during a chaotic situation, you don’t have to call the office back and forth, especially after hours,” Gallagher explains. “I can look up [on the app] what bus a student was on, their bus stop, and basically investigate where the student was if something were to happen.”
Routefinder GO also allows drivers to document actual events in real time by uploading photos or video footage of an incident and attaching it to the affected vehicle and/or student files. This feature can also notify designated emergency responders, parents, and district personnel.
A new management platform that connects to routing systems like Routefinder PLUS and GPS systems like Zonar, is ByteCurve 360, which creates a mobile fleet dashboard for tracking performance, dispatch, and scheduling, as well as a driver’s time and attendance.
“The software brings in the data from the users’ current routing and GPS systems so transportation directors not only see the schedules [of drivers], but they see how they are paying [drivers] accurately,” says G.P. Singh, CEO and founder of ByteCurve.
The system automates the calculation of a driver’s total wages based on route hours, scheduling, and GPS data, Singh says. The system also includes customizable guarantee and overtime calculations that are supported by algorithms designed specifically for school transportation professionals.
Tim Shannon, director of transportation for Twin Rivers (Calif.) Unified School District, attests to the benefits of using the software and plans to conduct a pilot with ByteCurve at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
“All of the data [will be] in one place rather than in multiple pieces of software,” Shannon said. “It [will] allow us to harness the horsepower of our existing routing and data systems.”
ByteCurve is in the process of adding more real-time data to its fleet dashboard, including a driver’s speed levels, child check compliance, and a vehicle’s health status. In addition, ByteCurve 360 will have the ability to integrate with systems like software supplier OnCommand Connection’s (OCC’s) electronic driver inspection report (eDVIR) and other devices to update the dashboard.
“The intent for our eDVIR was to replace the paper forms that drivers use today,” says Sean Slyman, Navistar’s director of connected services for bus. “If you have a fleet of one hundred or five hundred buses and you’re submitting these paper forms, you’re asking technicians to not only categorize [the reports], but also address them as they come in.”
For example, if a driver needs to report an issue with a vehicle, they can choose from a variety of what Slyman calls “canned responses,” or otherwise predefined responses, on the eDVIR to explain issues like a broken headlight or if a vehicle needs an oil change. Drivers can accompany these responses with photos that can be uploaded either using their mobile phone or a tablet.
“In these cases, the canned responses, first, provide consistency so it’s faster for the driver to detail the issue, and then second, because it’s easier to track with many vehicles over time,” Slyman says.
As drivers head out to complete their morning routes, the transportation manager will be able to monitor all eDVIRs submitted by drivers on the OCC dashboard and see where a bus’s vehicle health ranks based on the critical issues that were reported. This allows managers and technicians to prioritize which vehicles need servicing first.
In addition, Slyman says users can cross-reference the information from the eDVIR with OCC’s advanced remote diagnostics software, which pulls information from the vehicle’s network, such as the engine controller and electrical controller, using telematics and service tools. The advanced remote diagnostics data not only grants stakeholders access to a vehicle’s health information, Slyman says, but also reinforces communication between drivers, maintenance technicians, and directors.
Aside from enhancing communication between transportation personnel, Transportant offers an all-inclusive, fully integrated platform with mobile fleet tracking as well as on-boarding features such as Wi-Fi and live video and audio.
Using the platform’s fleet dashboard, stakeholders can create customized reports based on hourly, daily, and yearly mileage, distance, and driver data that can be accessed via a tablet or mobile device.
“We start with a high-level stats dashboard that you can intuitively drill down,” says Alan Fairless, chief technical officer of Transportant. “For example, you can see why a bus is going an extra four hundred miles this week that it didn’t go last week.”
In addition, the platform’s live video streaming allows directors to see which students are on a bus in the event of an emergency or a behavioral issue, while the two-way audio enables quick and easy contact between drivers and directors.
The platform also includes a mobile app called Bus Compass, which Fairless says is designed to provide transparent, consistent communication with students and parents.
“Transportation directors often tell us that their department spends hundreds of staff hours on the phone with parents,” Fairless adds. “So giving transportation directors some freedom was a big part of putting that app together so parents can get information without having to call in.”
John Styers, co-founder of Transportant, says that the company plans to include more immediate access to bus data so directors and maintenance staff can see how a bus is being driven, including speeds, hard turns, hard stops, and whether a bus is still completing its route.