School bus technicians without a telematics system must rely on what drivers tell them about vehicles in the fleet, which can result in preventable inconveniences and inefficient expenses.
For school districts that often are tight on funds, telematics can save money by keeping buses on the road and running as safely and efficiently as possible.
“Proactive, predictive maintenance also has a big impact on ROI (return on investment),” says Kevin Mest, senior vice president and general manager of passenger services for Zonar Systems. “Just one unplanned road call costs more to a school district than an entire telematics system costs for three years.”
Telematics solutions allow for predictive maintenance and provide opportunities for data analysis so that fleet managers can spot trends, inform purchasing decisions, or decide when the time’s right to purchase a new school bus.
Let’s explore just a few examples of telematic systems that can track the health of your bus tires, brakes, engine, transmission, and more:
Brinston Williams, fleet manager for Gwinnett County (Ga.) Schools, is in the midst of a 90-day trial with Revvo.
This telematics system puts sensors into school bus tires, keeping track of tire pressure with real-time data, which is streamed to the cloud for access via web browser or mobile app. They’ve been installed on five activity buses used to take students to athletic events beyond the distance used by a typical route bus. Company officials say it’s got the potential to extend a tire’s life by 30 percent.
“What we find out is we have a closer pulse on what’s going on with the tire,” Williams says. “We see the pressure; we see the temperature at any given moment. I can look at my buses, get a report twice a day (in the morning and in the afternoon). I can see where we had some tires that were low, brought it into the shop, and caught it before it could wear low or cause an issue. That part is nice.”
Sunjay Dodani, co-founder and chief executive officer of Revvo, notes that safety is of the utmost importance.
“You never want a bus stranded somewhere, especially due to something that could be prevented with a maintenance program,” Dodani says. “Tires are high on the list of things fleet managers have to spend on. Number one after fuel. And, as fleets go electric, tires become the number one consumable.”
They’re expensive, and also a liability if inspections are missed, “putting the safety of our most precious loved ones at risk,” he says.
The KWRL Transportation Cooperative in Washington state runs 100 school buses for four rural districts, carrying 4,000 students every day.
Shannon Barnett, the co-op’s director, now receives alerts with vehicle fault codes as they arise so he can coordinate with a mechanic to gauge how bad the problem is and whether it can stay on the road or return immediately for service.
“Now I have the most accurate information to make the best, safest decision for our riders,” Barnett says in a Samsara case study. “This saves us hours. We no longer need to dispatch a mechanic and a laptop to the vehicle sitting idle deep in the Columbia River Gorge. We just see the fault code in Samsara and decide what to do.”
Samsara real-time alerts can provide enough warning to avoid irreversible damage that can lead to downtime or mandatory bus replacement.
“In addition to automated diagnostic alerts, there is a wide range of maintenance needs that depend on varying time intervals, mileage, and engine hour requirements, and it can be challenging to keep track of when a bus is due in the garage,” says Karine Gidali, Samsara’s principal product marketing manager, public sector. “By connecting the preventative maintenance schedule directly to vehicle data, customers can ensure they are notified when a bus is due for its next maintenance interval. This insight, alongside utilization reporting, can alleviate the risk of overusing high-performing buses and better allocate resources to ensure the long-term health of their fleet.”
Telematics-enabled solutions, such as Zonar FaultIQ, send data from the brakes, engine, and transmission of every bus remotely to a fleet technician.
“When a fault is triggered, an easy-to-understand description of the problem and an action plan is provided to the technician in near real-time,” says Mest, “so they can assess the issue and readily prepare any necessary replacement parts. The driver is then instructed to continue operating the bus to its destination (the most common scenario), or safely pull over to await further assistance.”
Such systems can also improve efficient of quarterly Engine Control Module (ECM) updates, which are required by many diesel-engine school buses.
“Traditionally, these updates require pulling each bus into the shop or, in many cases, sending it off to a local Cummins dealer with shop costs added,” Mest says. But solutions like Zonar OTAir allows technicians and drivers to scan a barcode on the bus with a phone or tablet and complete updates within five minutes, he says.
Maintenance telematics allow fleet managers to track the working condition of vital components throughout the school bus along with the usual visual checks of mirrors, headlights, tires, and potential oil leaks.
“Technicians then want to be able to chart calculable improvements, showing where they increased efficiency and reduced costs by addressing these issues with telematics and the data insights it provides,” Mest says. “Technicians, dispatch, and administration can then review data through real-time reports and dashboards or receive a text or email notification if driver behavior – such as idling, speeding, or in the wrong place, so dangerous and wasteful behavior is occurring so that it can be stopped immediately.”
Mest says that the company also is working on solutions to provide diagnostics for lamps, valves, windshield wipers and more in the years ahead.
The Ohio Shared Services Collaborative reported a projected savings of about $6 million and a 20% reduction in bus idling after using Zonar.
Those telematics also prove valuable in Gwinnett County.
“Most of our newer buses have telematics built into the engines,” Williams says. “They can tell us if there are any error codes coming from the engine and where the bus is at any given time. It’s been nice to be able to see all that real-time data and keep a closer eye on the state of our buses.”
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