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Superfast Moving Technology

As a kid, I was surfing the internet with a 14.4 kb/s modem, and I thought that was flying. Nowadays, that modem speed seems laughable, considering the rate at which data now flows to and from our computers and mobile devices.

My first cell phone in 1997 was a Motorola flip phone. Now, my iPhone X performs amazing feats, not to mention connecting me to friends and family on calls and text messages, at blistering speeds. In fact, the smartphone in my pocket has more computing power than all of NASA when it placed the first men on the moon in 1969.

A lot of people ask me if the school bus has changed much in 30 years. My answer is yes, but they are still school bus yellow. Inside, however, it’s a brand-new ballgame.

At STN EXPO Reno in July, I saw more electric school buses and EVs on the trade show floor than ever before. The options for school bus fuel and energy choices have come so far in the last decade, and yet clean diesel still remains at the top as the leading choice, according to a recent STN readership study. But for how much longer?

That might seem to be an outrageous question to many readers, but again consider what we did not know a mere 10 years ago about where technology would take us. Gasoline and propane are increasing in popularity with buyers. Now, enter electric school buses fueled by grants, VW Mitigation Trust Fund and government subsidies.

The recent STN EXPO Reno panel on “Electrifying the School Bus,” sponsored by Southern California Edison, was packed with attendees who were hungry for details on this emerging school bus energy trend.

One attendee I spoke with at the opening keynote address the previous day said he would never buy an electric school bus. But after Jim Harris’ talk on “Disruptive Innovation in Student Transportation,” the attendee changed his mind. Why?

“I have to be on the correct side of the trend curve,” the attendee told me. “This technology is coming, whether I like it or not, and my district needs to be ready for it.”

Harris displayed slides that showed Tesla’s rapid advance in market share. I was surprised to see the Model S catapult ahead of all major automotive luxury cars in 2015 and continue its increase exponentially. Harris shared that the Tesla Model 3 launch had 300,000 pre-orders worth $12.6 billion. It was the most successful car launch ever.

Another notable company Harris mentioned is Apple, which is investing $4.7 billion annually into car R&D. Yes, Apple, the computer and smart device company. It is not supposed to be making cars. The investment is 20 times more than all traditional auto manufacturers combined.

In five to seven years, Harris predicted we’ll have autonomous cars on the road. How will school transportation be impacted?

Harris highlighted the disruptive force of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft. I remember using taxis or renting cars, but now, I mainly use rideshare services. According to Forbes, millennials are buying fewer cars than older generations. Why? Because ridesharing provides a great customer service experience, and it has become easier than ever to simply request a car when you need one. You don’t have to worry about fuel, insurance and maintenance costs when you don’t.

Will parents choose to place their children into vehicles that they can track and monitor via their personal mobile devices? That is already happening today. Simply look at the number of school districts that are now using bus apps, and the number of rideshare companies that have entered the student transportation market.

The adoption of mobile apps and student tracking is a growing trend in school transportation. More and more, technology companies are adapting to meet parent, student and school district needs. I believe this will continue to be an essential part of the services that school transportation must offer. If school bus transportation ever wants to compete long-term with other modes, technology adoption will be essential.

It may seem far-fetched today, but these technology advancements aren’t far away. Industry disruptions require a different perspective and willingness to change—and that is not easy to do.

It’s an exciting time. From automated vehicles and advanced driver assistance systems, to 5G wireless and the internet of things, all of these affect the school transportation industry.

I’m looking forward to this continued debate. I challenge you to embrace change and to think differently.

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the September issue, Publisher’s Corner 

June 2024

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