Over the past few years, school districts and school bus contractors have sought out software tools that offer more accessibility across a variety of devices and more seamless integration of different programs to help them deal with busy schedules and fewer resources.
Customers need data accessible on any device from anywhere for when they need to be away from the office, says Lori Jetha, marketing manager of Seon. Parents and administrators in particular expect instant information, so making data from multiple sources available in real time is important, she adds.
Customers are also voicing a need to pull together all that information from GPS tracking and video surveillance seamlessly on one screen and get meaningful insight, Jetha explains, because of strained resources due to budgetary issues and fewer staff members taking on more work. “Customers don’t want to have to import from one system and export to another and decipher how all this data fits together,” she says.
In fleet maintenance, buses can now register real-time information on the health of the bus, helping mechanics stay up to date, says Frank Gazeley, vice president of client relations at Transfinder.
Tracking revenue and the actual costs that buses are incurring for field trips, athletic trips and activity trips — from vehicle maintenance to fuel costs to driver pay — is another common need for school districts today, says Brian Mann, software sales and marketing executive for EasyBus.
In response, many suppliers are offering even more device accessibility, cloud-based systems, real-time information and program integration to help transportation directors, contractors and fleet managers streamline their route and fleet planning and data analysis to cut costs and labor.
Sonia Mastros, president of Orbit Software Inc., says BusBoss, a suite of routing software products, now features the customizable SmartRoute Dashboard™, which alerts directors to different factors while planning daily bus routes, such as students not assigned to stops or routes, and drivers with an expiring license or unsafe driving habits. Customers select what to track as part of their dashboard, and create different dashboard groups. The program can create multiple dashboards based on the process they are trying to complete, such as preparing to transfer students to a new route plan, submit state reimbursement reports and fleet optimization.
Orbit also plans to release additional functionality, such as satellite view overlay on its maps, integrated address point geocoding instead of parcels, and forced right-side pickups.
Dolphin SoftSense Inc.
Dolphin Fleet Management integrates technology with Zonar Systems to reduce the amount of manual input on fleet upkeep and driver record tracking for fleet managers, says Jeff Yeager, president of Dolphin SoftSense Inc.
The software connects to fueling stations for automatic mileage updates on buses, and utilizes Zonar’s technology to generate work orders, maintenance schedules, bus driver compliance reports, and track recalls.
For example, if a technician wants to change the oil on the fleet’s vehicles every 8,000 miles, they can enter that into the program, and the software generates a work order when the vehicle reaches that mileage. Automated reports also list parts needed on vehicles and assign maintenance jobs to a technician, creating a “to-do list” for him or her.
It also tracks parts inventory, what buses they go on, when they were put on a bus, the cost of a part when it was bought, and compares parts prices and availability from different vendors, Yeager adds.
To handle recalls, users enter the information from the notice into the system, and the software finds all the affected buses in the fleet and tracks actions taken on the recall.
EasyBus just released EasyBus Enterprise, field trip-planning software for school districts, school bus contractors and motorcoach operators, says Brian Mann, director of sales and marketing for EasyBus.
With EasyBus Enterprise, school districts can use an automated online portal for more efficient handling of trip approval requests. It enables a teacher or a coach to fill out an online form as easily as if they were booking a flight reservation, Mann explains, which eliminates headache-inducing paper trails. Generally, the district’s athletic director or principal’s office turns the paperwork in to the transportation director, and then the dispatcher assigns a vehicle to a driver and projects the costs for that trip. With EasyBus Enterprise, they can bill it to the department within that district or school.
The software also maintains profiles on all drivers, ensuring drivers’ licenses, physicals and training are all up to date, and logs speeding tickets, accidents and parent or teacher complaints. It also includes profiles on all the fleet’s vehicles, and tracks the maintenance needed on each bus.
For school bus contractors, EasyBus Enterprise also offers dispatching and scheduling, the option to bill schools and other customers, and tracking for costs of and revenue from routes, trips and individual vehicles.
At the heart of the vMax suite of solutions is vMax Compass, which integrates route planning tools, student ridership tracking and video surveillance in real time and in the convenience of one screen, Jetha says.
Often when customers purchase routing software, the challenge is getting stop information and student information integrated into route planning, she adds. As any transportation director knows, that information can change daily. vMax Compass integrates with the school’s student information system, so changes are always readily available and don’t have to be imported.
“You can see your planned versus actual routes on one screen without flipping between different applications or importing data,” Jetha explains. “You can also access the video footage in real time [and] have a live view of any installed camera on the bus. [If] an incident happens, you can go into your routing platform, locate the bus on a map, and tap into the live video, all from one screen.”
Additionally, the software allows the transportation department to maximize its bus capacity by automatically assigning students to stops and factoring in bell times, maximum ride times, and special equipment that students need, and matches them with the available buses.
The vMax Compass routing platform was developed by U.S. Computing in partnership with Seon.
Servicefinder, now a browser-based solution, is a stand-alone product that can manage preventive maintenance scheduling, work orders and parts inventories in one place, says Frank Gazely, vice president of client relations at Transfinder.
Transfinder recently expanded Servicefinder’s capabilities to accommodate a rise in schools sharing resources due to budgetary reasons, to make that easier, Gazeley notes. The shop or school district can take on work from other districts and separate information on sharing fuel purchasing, and parts and vehicle purchasing.
“For example, if I am helping school district A because it’s a small district, I may be managing their fleet [along with] several others,” he explains. “The system can separate those individual entities and provide reports [with] the metrics to see how well the organization is operating with those businesses, and provide metrics to the schools.”
Servicefinder also connects to devices on each bus that capture those data for use in maintenance forecasting and sends maintenance alerts.
TransTraks Routing Module is the quickest product on the market to get up and running on the cloud, says Robert Jacobus, senior consultant for TransTraks.
TransTraks routing offers features such as run cutting, route optimization, mapping, student eligibility, driver time keeping and a dispatch center. With easy to find tools, routing can identify exact driver hours from check-in to leave-yard times, according to the supplier. Those routing hours can in turn be seen by a field trip coordinator to determine if that driver will go over hours for an upcoming trip. A field trip module, web trip school request site and fleet maintenance module come with the product as part of the cost of the cloud service.
Versatrans Routing and Planning integrates routing and fleet information to help optimize routing resources, with a one-touch feature that creates routes using the vehicles and the resources the customer has to work with, says Sam Catalano, manager of product management at Tyler Technologies.
The software factors in criteria such as how many students can ride on each bus and how long routes should run, evaluates different routing scenarios and selects the most efficient way to run a set of stops.
“Versatrans Routing and Planning knows if my route [requires] two wheelchair spots and air conditioning, I can only load that route onto a vehicle that has that capability,” Ted Thien, senior vice president and general manager of Versatrans, explains.
Catalano adds that Versatrans Routing and Planning can also set up a planning scenario so customers can see the effects of changes in the system without affecting their current information.
In addition to partnering with Seon to create the vMax suite, U.S. Computing also offers the web-based Compass Route Builder.
The software uses an ESRI-compatible mapping and database platform so transportation departments can share data district-wide, says Kerry Somerville, director of business development.
Compass Route Builder also includes a feature called the TAR — Transportation Action Request — which streamlines requests from staff outside the transportation department. For example, if there is a change in a special-needs student’s transportation plan, the school can electronically submit a request to the transportation department for that change, which eliminates a lot of paperwork, Somerville explains.
The system can also automatically assign students to routes based on equipment needs.