Affordable Technology Goes Back to the Future

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The theory goes, that out of the organic compounds on Earth, all life as we know it came to be. Fast forward a few billion years, and we have a school bus that continues to evolve, with a focus now on the impact of emerging technologies. The menu of offerings seems to increase every day, and as we try to make those decisions, we often ask, why?

Why do we need a particular technology or advanced feature? What is it going to do for us as we operate our fleet day after day? What’s driving us toward one decision or another? Are we simply doing it because everyone else is, or because it is really needed?

If budget was not an issue, we would likely try every advancement out there, but that is not the case. We have to take a practical approach and consider what is best for us. An argument can be made for most products and services you will consider. But the actual task is to prioritize, based on what you can afford and which approach best advances the principals of your operating philosophy.

Fortunately, many technologies come with a positive ROI. As a result, when you work through the options, bringing forward new initiatives that will indeed reduce costs may be the path of least resistance come budget time. If you think your route plan can be improved by using new computer-aided tools, understanding potential savings will get you one step closer to budget approval.

Examining results from other school districts can give you real data to back-up your case at budget time. Check with your neighbors and ask vendors for evidence of positive budget impact.

Our focus continues to be safety and cost-effectiveness. Many technologies positively impact safety, and we’ll continue to strive for a perfect record. Better planning, live real-time tracking, video, and student tracking can all positively impact safety. So, in a sense, we cannot afford to be constantly missing these opportunities.

Getting educated on the ROI of such technology is a good start to building the budget case. A better route plan and a good idle-tracking plan can help pay for the technologies that are used. By reducing the amount of time to deal with disputes between operators and parents because good video and audio are on-board, means that more staff time will be available to deal with other important matters, thus leading to even more savings.

Improved technology also offers more data to analyze when looking for better operational efficiency. But this in itself can be a problem. You have to now find additional staff time for such activities, then be trained to efficiently interpret the data.

Partnerships with vendors who not only sell you a tech solution, but who will also stand with you through the analysis, is something to look for when making decisions. So, instead of purchasing from a vendor, consider seeking out a partner. A business that will help you advance technologically, while concurrently helping you move forward, will ensure the new technology will work for you day after day, instead of the other way around.

A lot of options, along with little time and budget, means we have to develop a road map for the budget decision-makers to believe that they can use technology cost-effectively to maintain and improve the ultimate goal—transporting children safely. Look for opportunities to be educated.

As suppliers, we want you to see the value there, and help you sell the business proposition. As in everyday life, technology moves the evolutionary wheel faster for school busing.

In retrospect, we see that some of those early compounds back at the beginning of life got left behind and did not find the right partner. My advice? Don’t get left behind. Now is the time to help those around you make decisions that advance your agenda toward the modern high-tech operation.

Editor’s Note: This post is reprinted from STN’s May 2019 issue. Robert Scott has been involved in the school bus industry for 40 years. Beginning as a transportation director, he has worked as a school bus contractor, consultant, systems design analyst, and business builder. Scott recently left 247 Security, a company he helped found, to become CEO of Viafy (formerly Ubicabus). Viafy partners with school districts and contractors to provide school bus-specific vehicle tracking, route planning and associated technologies. Scott can be reached at