With schools increasingly reopening, momentum is growing to return to full operation. For pupil transporters, that means addressing potentially greater driver shortage, factoring in the added responsibilities of sanitizing the buses — possibly as a permanent practice — and returning to managing more staff members in person — or at least staff numbers similar to pre-pandemic levels.
In our recent article on driver shortage solutions, Mark Clawson, transportation director of New Hanover County Public Schools in North Carolina, shared how he and his team used data to create more efficient routing to work with the number of available drivers at his district. The team had about 35 fewer drivers and half the bus capacity available for about half of the student population and concluded that they would need to do multiple runs — and quicker.
Routing software data showed that 36% of the district’s stops last year were at the students’ homes. (State law requires schools to place one stop within a mile of students’ residences, but last year’s walking distance to stops was much closer: one-tenth of a mile for all the district’s 13,000 riders.)
The team consolidated existing stops into “community stops” — central locations such as clubhouses and neighborhood pool parking lots within half a mile walking distance — for all middle school and high school students to be picked up together. (Elementary school students are assigned to stops within less than half a mile of walking distance.) The average bus route time is shorter, at 16 minutes, allowing drivers to go back to the same school and do a second run. That also has students and the driver on the bus together for less time, reducing the likelihood of coronavirus exposure.
Since keeping the bus interior clean requires many more meticulous steps these days, we turned to air filtration suppliers for information on the latest offerings to combat COVID-19 and other airborne viruses on the bus in a story in our upcoming April/May issue. We also share in that story how one district looked to first responders such as ambulances and fire departments to select a system, got assistance from their bus dealer on installation, and covered the expense with CARES Act funding.
Additionally, Tony Pollard, the transportation coordinator for Baldwin County (Ala.) Public Schools, discussed his team’s process for a fully safe bus sanitizing process that relied on seeking the best knowledge, delegating effectively, keeping staff safe, and prioritizing the guiding mission: transporting students to and from school safely.
One of Pollard’s team members, fleet manager Glenn Brown, offered a unique and useful perspective as a former paramedic to help guide sanitization planning. Brown recommended having an epidemiologist help identify suitable products to use on the buses and provide safety data sheets for each chemical involved, teach them how to use the products safely and effectively, and determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used while sanitizing.
Meanwhile, some operators may find they could use a refresh with in-person management and Karen Main’s article on having difficult conversations with employees when necessary may help. Main presents a hypothetical scenario in which a transportation manager or director needs to discuss chronic tardiness with a driver and turns to a colleague in the Human Resources department for some pointers. One key piece of advice offered in the story by the Human Resources colleague “character:"
“Keep in mind your reason for meeting with [the employee]. Is it to ensure [their] success on your team, or create a path for [their] exit? The mindset you bring to your conversations with employees will impact their outcome.”
If you’re getting back up to full speed at your operation, what do you need for a successful transition? We look forward to hearing how the reopening process is going for pupil transporters large and small across North America. Please let us know in the comments section below.