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Alabama District Tackles School Bus Idling, Tracking with New Software

Montgomery Public Schools (MPS) in Alabama installed software for the new school year that shows the district has already reduced its fleet idling times by almost 80 percent, while also uncovering opportunities to track students, driver behavior and routes.

In February, MPS installed Verizon Connect Reveal on 80 of its white fleet maintenance and security vehicles used for operations. At the start of the current school year, the district completed installation on the 220 school buses in the fleet. Now the software is being used on all of the district’s vehicles.

“With the software, our idle time has probably gone down 70 to 80 percent from when we started. We’re probably saving anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 miles a week in travel,” said Chad Anderson, executive director of operations at MPS. “The technology helped us pinpoint the gut feelings we had and put data behind it.”

Verizon Connect was established in 2018 from the merger of Fleetmatics, Telogis and Networkfleet. It provides small and medium-sized businesses and mobile enterprises with solutions and services that enable them to better manage their vehicles, people and the work that is being done.

The software promises increased visibility into fleets and assists customers to better understand productivity, efficiency and safety. Kevin Aries, who leads the Verizon Connect global product success and management team, said the company works with transportation directors to install hardware on the school bus that will communicate with a computer-based or mobile phone-based application.

Upon logging into the web-based software, the user can see a live map of all the school buses in the fleet in almost real-time. With this software, Aries said transportation directors can track everything from how fast a school bus is going, where they are going, what route they’ve taken and whether the buses are idling or moving.

The software can then be integrated with another application, which would provide location data to parents so they could track their children and school buses.

“For parents, this means the assurance that their children are going to be protected and watched over at a time when those parents can’t actually be in the school bus alongside them,” Aries said.

Verizon Connect surveyed 500 parents across the U.S. to gauge parental thoughts and views on school bus transportation. The survey found that 57 percent of the parents queried said they are currently taking their children to school.

The survey also concluded that one in four parents do not think buses are safe, and that leveraging emerging technology to track the location of school buses is a way that school districts can help overcome any safety concerns parents have. In fact, the survey also found that nearly 86 percent of parents said they would want to see technology in school buses that would allow them to know when their child arrives at his/her destination.

School Transportation News conducted a reader survey in August and found that 51 percent of 309 respondents who have job titles of transportation director or fleet manager, said they are using GPS to track the location of their school buses. Forty-one percent said they are using an application to show parents location and arrival times of buses and student tracking.


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How MPS is Utilizing the Software

While Anderson said an app will be available to the parents within the next few weeks, the software is already having a positive impact.

“We have to track and account for every mile that a bus drives, since the state gives us funding for gas,” Anderson said. “Making sure it’s all accounted for is a must. With the software, we can pull up data right there. It’s especially helpful if we need to dispute anything.”

Anderson said another benefit is being able to track district drivers and any incidents of hard braking and speeding. His department is able to address that behavior and mitigate the negative reports about erratic driving or drivers not doing what they are supposed to.

“Before, I had no way to really monitor driving behavior other than waiting on a person to call me,” he added. “Now, I can be more proactive instead of reactive.”

In about 20 minutes, Anderson said he can review the entire fleet’s daily logs to determine what is happening in all the school buses and white fleet vehicles. He said he can look at fuel mileage and speeding, and determine which drivers he needs to speak with later and which he can send a push notification to.

“The technology works in a way that I can set it and then forget about it,” Anderson said. “You can come to it when you want to or when you need to, and then you get alerts and reports sent to you. I get about four reports every night and have a couple of alerts on my phone, and that is plenty of information.”

Anderson said the software also works to ensure driver accountability and making sure drivers are not taking the vehicles out for personal use.

“The ability to see when a school bus is idling, or when it is sitting there with its engine on, that could cause a pretty significant cost in fuel, which at times is expensive,” Aries said. “So that’s another area where school districts tend to save money, by looking at fuel efficiency. And then, of course, there is the unauthorized use, so making sure that those school buses are being used only when they are supposed to, as opposed to any potential personal trips outside of the scope of someone’s job.”

Aries added, “And that can also result in saving money. The more efficient school buses are being used, the less wear and tear on the vehicle. The harsher the school buses are being used, or the more frequent use, the more likely they are going to need any sort of repair or maintenance associated with it, again, that’s another cost to the school district.”

Going forward, Anderson said he plans on obtaining more data on the routes, then having a routing specialist go in and observe each route to determine if the district is maximizing its routing. He said this should help free up drivers throughout the state of Alabama to assist with the shortage.

Editor’s Note: Read more about GPS tracking and technology implementation in the September 2019 magazine edition.  

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