The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services Annual Conference featured a discussion on National School Bus Specifications and Procedures guidelines as well as real-world experience on the correct usage of tablets and Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs) on school buses.
SafeStop announced a partnership that integrates its school bus tracking and parent communication app with Zonar’s Smart Fleet Management Solutions.
Whether school districts and transportation contractors are on their first, second or even third-generation wireless system, demand for data from the school bus is likely to continue growing exponentially as its value increases with real-time delivery.
Expanding on a smart routing article in the September 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine, this online exclusive shares how technology and higher math cooperated to create improved routing experiences for two school districts.
Everywhere you look people are talking about the transformative nature of big data. The increasing sophistication of technology and the nearly ubiquitous connections between these systems provides a virtually bottomless pit of data to analyze correlations and what causes what. Besides the obvious correlation is not causation problem, how should transportation managers think about these developments? What are the practical realities associated with trying to use these systems and data for transportation managers? My opinion is that big data is a nice idea but analysis of small data is where transportation departments are likely to have much more of an impact on their ability to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective services.
What is small data? Small data is the kind of data that comes out of your routing software, GPS systems, training programs, and other quantitative and qualitative systems you have in your operation. It is the data that you can extract, analyze, and generally comprehend the results without a graduate degree in statistics. Most transportation departments will always be understaffed and unlikely to be overwhelmed with Ph.D. statisticians. As a result, finding a way to set yourself up for success and conduct meaningful analysis is a necessary and immediate concern for transportation professionals.
The First Step in a Journey of a Thousand Miles
Ensuring the completeness and accuracy of data available in key systems has to be the first concern of every manager. On the assumption we are generating reasonably clean data, one of the next most important aspects of any analytics process is the ability to integrate the various products you have purchased. The development of application programming interfaces (APIs) to pass data between the programs has greatly facilitated data aggregation and transfer but work is still needed to simplify the access to this data.
Integrating the data from multiple systems is a big data idea that can be implemented effectively at the small data level. The simplest and most common example is the assessment of planned versus actual routing that takes GPS data and matches it to data from the routing software. Thinking about how to integrate data across your systems and working with vendors to make this process easy, even if it is just developing a properly formatted excel file you can export, is a key component of setting yourself up to benefit from big and small data. What other benefits can integration provide?
The wide range of activities that these analyses address with a relatively limited data sets and easy math skills demonstrates how small data analysis can still have high-value impacts.
Thinking beyond just the data available in your transportation systems is also important to more fully understand how well your organization is performing. Gathering qualitative data through parent and principal surveys, for example, can provide very useful insights and support for the quantitative analysis of your system data.
Data is Not Just 1’s and 0’s
One of the most valuable small data sources that transportation staff can integrate the volumes of quantitative data from routing and software systems with is qualitative data from surveys of parents, drivers, and principals. Designing surveys to assess things like the service impacts of late arrivals (identified from GPS data) is a great way to gather big data insights from small data analysis. This small data effort can help transportation managers directly associate concerns like cost reductions to service quality and educational impacts. An additional benefit is that these types of big data insights come without having to do a significant amount of statistical wizardry.
The combination of qualitative and quantitative data greatly expands the range of analysis and knowledge that transportation managers can gain about their operation. The technical systems that are available to districts continue to expand and vendors continue to increase the functionality of their systems in a way that will fundamentally change the job of transportation manager in the future. Understanding how the technology works, how systems can be connected, and how other information can be connected to the system data is necessary, to be able to wholly understand what is happening in the department.
Big data is an interesting and likely transformative aspect of our current and future lives. However, a proper context for the Internet of Things and all of these devices is our ability to actually use the information generated to improve our ability to provide services. As a result, transportation managers should not get lost in the complications of big data. A focus on small data will lead to big benefits in cost savings, safety improvements and service enhancements.
Research and Markets said a new study indicates the commercial vehicle telematics market is expected to increase to $18.4 billion in the next five years from the current figure of $7.3 billion tied to the growth of mobile device usage.
RENO, Nevada – Several viewpoints were shared during the "Advances in School Bus Route Optimization" breakout session held last week during the 24th STN EXPO to help attendees seek the right solutions for their local operations.