ROCKWALL, Texas — More than two dozen school transportation officials from across the country gathered here this week to share ideas and to network during the inaugural School Bus eXchange (SBX).

The two-day event, held by the National Association for Pupil Transportation and School Bus Fleet, focused on connecting public and private school bus operators and industry suppliers to discuss solutions for common challenges in the industry.

Keynote speaker Mark Aesch set the tone by encouraging attendees to identify the outputs of success for their operations. Examples for school transportation might include standards like 95% on-time school drop-offs, no preventable accidents, 90% parent/student satisfaction and operating within budget.

“If we don’t define success, guess who does: everybody else,” Aesch said. “We have to define success.”

He recommended developing a scorecard with various factors that boil down to one number. The goal, he said, is to “demonstrate that taxpayers are getting a return on their investment.”

Also on the agenda at SBX was a series of roundtables. Attendees discussed challenges and solutions in four key areas: operational efficiency, fleet metrics, school bus driver shortage, and technology and software.

“We’re here from all over the country, but we have a lot of the same problems,” said Brian Weisinger, who led the roundtable on fleet metrics. “One is keeping buses under 15 years. How do you get rid of these old buses? How do you justify getting new ones?”

Walter Prothro, director of transportation for Georgetown (Texas) Independent School District, pointed to a term he learned in the military: “uneconomically repairable,” meaning that a vehicle has gotten to the point in which maintenance has become too expensive. He suggested using data from a fleet management system to show the school board when a bus has become uneconomically repairable.

The fleet metrics discussion also touched on tracking the frequency and cost of road calls, trying to develop a sustainable fleet replacement program, and assessing the advantages of buying or leasing buses.

Peter Mannella led the roundtable on driver shortage. Attendees shared a variety of ideas, such as implementing hiring bonuses, recruiting retirees and holding an event to let prospective drivers get behind the wheel of a bus.

Another element of the SBX event was one-on-one consultations, in which school bus operators were given scheduled times to meet with school bus manufacturers and equipment suppliers. The idea was to help attendees learn about potential solutions for the challenges that their operations are facing.

Look for more coverage of SBX online in the coming week and in the June issue of School Bus Fleet.

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