The study tracked a diesel IC Bus school bus and a propane Blue Bird bus as they followed routes through 62 connected intersections.  -  Photo: Applied Information

The study tracked a diesel IC Bus school bus and a propane Blue Bird bus as they followed routes through 62 connected intersections.

Photo: Applied Information

A first-of-its-kind test of school buses using connected technology to optimize traffic signals in a Georgia school district is being hailed as a success by its participants.

Fulton County Schools equipped two school buses – a diesel IC Bus and a propane Blue Bird – with connected vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) transmitters supplied by Applied Information this spring and tracked performance at 62 intersections in the community of Alpharetta where buses could be flagged for priority to get green lights.

Passing Test with Changing Colors

During a webinar, participants in the study reported findings that included:

  • Enhanced on-board safety of students and bus drivers.
  • Improved route reliability and on-time performance.
  • More student participation in a breakfast program.
  • Reduced fuel consumption and harmful emissions.

The technology could also help ameliorate problems stemming from the national school bus driver shortage, according to a report based on the study.

“With about 86% of the nation’s school districts experiencing a driver shortage, improving the safety and efficiency of the fleet is critical,” said Trey Stow, director of transportation operations for Fulton County Schools. “The pilot showed we can use this technology to make our fleet more efficient and serve more students safely in a shorter amount of time, all while reducing our fuel bill and helping the environment.”

The report about the program, prepared by Kimley-Horn, stated that the experiment “demonstrated a clear and measurable reduction in route travel time for both school buses because of the decrease in total number of unscheduled stops and an increase in average speed of the bus along the route. Less time on the road and fewer bus stops equates to direct safety and mobility benefits for the bus driver, students, parents, nearby motorists, and the (Fulton County Schools). The pilot program enabled bus drivers to more frequently arrive at school on time and allow students to eat breakfast before going to class and starting their day.”

Said Bryan Mulligan, president of Applied Information: “The pilot program demonstrates the ability of the public and private sectors to work together and develop new and creative solutions for improving school transportation safety and efficiency. These solutions applied across the national fleet of approximately 500,000 school buses would prove significant time and fuel savings, as well as substantial reductions in CO2 emissions.”

Benefits for School Bus Drivers, Students, and Community

Bryan Mulligan, president of Applied Information, estimated a fleet of 900 school buses would cost about $4.5 million to refit with connected vehicle-to-everything transmitters.  -  Photo: Applied Information

Bryan Mulligan, president of Applied Information, estimated a fleet of 900 school buses would cost about $4.5 million to refit with connected vehicle-to-everything transmitters.

Photo: Applied Information

Michael Ruelle of Kimley-Horn told webinar viewers that “better on-time performance led to less driver stress and more time to focus on student behavior and safe driving habits.”

Sean Slyman, director of connected services for IC Bus parent company Navistar, said his company is committed to safe and on-time transport of students.

“Partnerships and pilot programs such as this one … demonstrate our support of technologies that enhance school bus safety and efficiency,” he said.

Stow indicated that he would like to see the program expanded to include Fulton County’s entire fleet of 930 school buses, but that largely would depend on available funding. Mulligan estimated that it would cost about $4.5 million to complete aftermarket refits of a 900-bus fleet and about that much to equip intersections with the connected technology.

“It’s quite affordable within the scale of grants and investments, compared to the cost of building a bridge,” Mulligan said. “In principle, technology deployments are effective and inexpensive compared to the cost of concrete and asphalt.”

And, he said, it’s deployable today with that current technology.

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