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Blockbuster and the School Bus

When my wife and I were first married and just getting started in life, a date night was dinner out and a visit to the neighborhood Blockbuster to rent a movie. We never would have guessed that a few years later, Blockbuster would be out of business. What happened to this $3.8 billion behemoth of the entertainment industry?


This isn’t a typo. Rather, it is a description of the age we are currently living in. Some might call it the cry of the Millennial. IWW IWW IWI means “I want what I want when I want it.”

Like it or not, we live in an on-demand world. I can get just about anything I want to be delivered to my home or office within several days. Just a few years ago, buying a sweater or a suitcase required a trip to the mall. Food delivery was reserved for pizza and Chinese food.


Nowadays, I can get virtually any meal I want to be delivered to my home or office in 20 minutes, even from high-end restaurants. And I can watch just about any movie I want, any time I want. No longer must I drive to the video store and hope that they still have the latest box office smash in stock.


What happened to retailing, fine dining and the entertainment industries? A disrupter—a competitor from outside the industry—showed up and gave customers a new choice. Amazon disrupted shopping malls, big box stores and retailers of all sizes. Netflix disrupted Blockbuster, and Uber Eats and Grubhub are disrupting restaurants.

A poll taken at Tyler Technologies’ 2019 user conference revealed that 79 percent of attendees had used Uber or Lyft at least one time. That same poll also revealed that 86 percent of attendees said that they would not place their own children in an Uber or Lyft unaccompanied by an adult.


What is interesting about these polling results, is that some people who had never ridden in an Uber would consider putting their unaccompanied child in one, even though this is technically against Uber’s own policies. If you don’t believe it is happening, just look at articles in Parenting magazine, the Washington Post and Business Insider, all of which confirm that parents are actually doing this.

Will “IWW IWW IWI” mean the end of the morning middle school bus run? Look at what happened to Blockbuster. Its demise came from a company, which was outside of its industry and came in a way that no one anticipated. Could Uber mean the end of the school bus?

Before we ponder that question, let’s think about why parents might place their child in an Uber. One hypothesis is that parents would do this because of the “transparency” created by the Uber app.

Through the Uber app, parents can see where the car is traveling. They can see the driver’s name and rating. They can see when the car stopped at the school and dropped off their child. And if their child complains about the ride, the parent can give the driver a bad rating. All of this creates a perception of safety and control.


What can we do? Should the K12 transportation industry provide the same level of transparency as Uber, using the same kind of technology? If you think that’s a far-flung idea, you should know that most of this technology is already here and being used by districts across the country.

Just look at Palmyra-Macedon Central School District in New York, for example (www.stnonline.com/go/5b). That district has an app for parents that shows where the bus is traveling, when the children were picked up at their bus stop, and when they were dropped off at school. They have a tablet and app for their drivers that tell them where their next stop is located and navigates them along their planned route. The same app tells the driver which children are loading or unloading at each stop.

The only thing it doesn’t do is allow the children to rate the drivers, but maybe that’s the next phase. Or maybe we should allow the drivers to rate the children?

Ted Thien

Editor’s Note: Ted Thien is the vice president and general manager of transportation solutions for Tyler Technologies, Inc. Reprinted from the June 2019 Issue of School Transportation News. 

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