HomeBlogsTo Infinity and Beyond! Buying for Today and Tomorrow

To Infinity and Beyond! Buying for Today and Tomorrow

Welcome back to, “Is she still talking about purchasing stuff?” (Why yes, and thanks for asking … I am!)

We’ve discussed the pilots and Requests for Information. We’ve covered areas where we could possibly make a misstep. Now, it’s time to talk about bidding and thinking long term.

As technology and product development change rapidly, we must constantly be thinking about where we want our operations to be not just today but tomorrow (and beyond). The goal of buying things isn’t because they’re shiny and new. It is because it aligns with both strategic plans and district/company long-term goals.

When purchasing, consider that your goals will probably be different based on the product type. Budget line items will be different as will be timelines between purchase and implementation.

Related: My Bid is on the Street … Why isn’t Anyone Responding?
Related: In the Know Before You Grow
Related: Student Transportation Veteran Provides Tips for School Bus Technology RFPs

Big Ticket Items and Capital Expenses:

  • Vehicles/Equipment/Hardware/Infrastructure

Services (Still costly but usually different budget line items):

  • Software/Technology-Routing Platforms
  • Transport Contracts/Passenger Specific providers
  • Audio/Visual Equipment

Aftermarket Products (often more of the “consumable” items)

  • Safety and securement equipment/Parts/Licensing agreements

In each of these categories, operations teams must be mindful of the way in which the purchase will be used now and, in some cases, how it will be used long after your retirement party!

Vehicles/Maintenance Equipment

  • Is the bid clear in specifications? Are flexible solutions available?
  • Did we base the specs on who we are transporting now? Is there an increasing enrollment? Will this type of vehicle still work with a variety of passengers and mixed grades/ages?
  • Did we say when we needed it? Is delivery even possible by that date?
    • Be realistic in your ordering timeline. Ordering a vehicle in June doesn’t mean delivery by the start of the school year.
  • If the delivery timeline was mutually agreed upon, add in a Plan B (liquidated damage) to cover you if that date doesn’t come to fruition.


  • Is there time built in for necessary reconfiguration/construction/data migration?
  • Are the skill sets of those onsite adequate to understand the newer technology?
  • How long will this last? Are we buying something we need to buy again in three to four years?

Software/Technology-Routing Platforms

  • Time for training? Do we need to clone old routing data and run both for a while?
  • See above on staff skill-sets (same thing here!)
  • Does this technology that we purchased connect with what the district/company already has in place?
  • Are licensing agreements on-going? Did we budget for that?
  • Does the district/company have a technology strategic plan? Does this align with the “plan?”

Transport Contracts/Passenger Specific Providers

  • Does the provider/contractor have a business plan in place that includes you?
  • If it’s a new service, does the vendor have a customer relationship manager (CRM) assigned to your team? Boots on the ground people are better than bots!
  • Can this provider grow with you? Did you ask for a certain margin of growth, (e.g., the contractor will be able to provide service for existing passengers and up to X percent more if required).

Audio/Visual Equipment/Parent Apps

  • Is vendor installation just one time or any time there’s a new install?
  • What if things change? Do we get system upgrades automatically?
  • Can this provider help with communication to customers? Is this a team PR effort?

Safety/Securement Equipment/Parts/Licensing

  • Do we have what we need? Did we purchase enough to have the same items on the spare fleet?
  • What’s the “life expectancy” of what we’re purchasing? Do we have a replacement cycle established?
  • Are we stocking now or delivering later?
  • Creative financing is available for safety/student specific items: Did we explore grant and federal funding?

Finally on financing. For all the items you’re buying, always be aware of budget timelines and that you may need money now and money later.

Real-life Scenario

You had the money in the account and ready to go in June but, it turns out you actually took delivery of the item in September (the next budget cycle). Sometimes, just like magic — poof — the money isn’t there anymore!

Alexandra Robinson is a former director of transportation and a current industry consultant and editorial advisor to School Transportation News. She moderates a panel at STN EXPO Reno on July 15 that will discuss elements of a winning RFP/RFI from the perspectives of school districts and vendors.


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