When used strategically, technology improves both school bus driver and student safety in a COVID-19 world, while also helping bus garages become more efficient during forced downtime.
Technology Partnerships for a COVID-19 World
Technology can play a huge part in the driver and passenger safety expectations in today’s COVID-19 world, explained Zonar Chief Operating Officer Michael Gould in his Monday morning keynote to open the STN EXPO Virtual conference. Technology fuels school bus operational success, in part by providing data and assisting with predictive maintenance, he said.
“It can make your life easier and make the community safer as well,” he added. Gould noted that technology can help streamline payroll and the tracking of bus driver hours.
Additionally, there are many grants and federal stimulus funding currently available. For example, Zonar partners with Bus Patrol for a revenue-sharing model that allows districts to run stop-arm cameras funded by fines paid by illegally passing motorists.
Gould stressed that transportation staff be specific about the technology they need to achieve their district’s or bus company’s goals, as well as plan for unexpected factors in the future.
“It’s got to be able to work for exactly what you need,” he advised.
That’s why a partnership is crucial, he explained, so that both the bus operation and the technology vendor are in this for the long haul.
Bryant Maxey, a Zonar product marketing specialist, said during a Monday Product Showcase that the company starts with safety top-of-mind and aims to equip all transportation staff with the tools they need.
Zonar’s Electronic Verification Inspection Report (EVIR) helps verify that bus drivers are following required sanitization procedures. Drivers complete a checklist as they clean the required areas to help ensure that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are adhered to.
Z Pass supports contact tracing by recording the location and time that students board and disembark. For any student who tests positive for COVID-19, the appropriate parents can be notified.
“Z pass has been amazing for contact tracing,” Valerie Pelc, a transportation director for Jeffco Schools in Colorado, confirmed in the chat.
The MyView mobile app keeps parents in the know by allowing them to set custom parameters and track all their children across all the buses they ride, as well as tracking meals or homework packets. Districts can also send parents alerts and messages.
OnRoute turn-by-turn directions empowers drivers and substitutes with the latest route information as they transport students or deliver food or homework. The system is route-agnostic.
Reimagining the Bus Garage
In a Tuesday morning presentation on utilizing technology to evolve maintenance operations, Zonar Senior Sales Engineer Brandon Eason spoke on how to get more out of bus fleets that may be sitting idle because of COVID-19’s impact on school schedules. He pointed out that now is a good time to maximize fleets, conduct new prep work routines and ensure that buses are reliable.
STN EXPO Virtual attendees flooded the chat box with their experiences and tips on what they were doing to keep drivers and technicians working and engaged during pandemic school shutdowns. Several transportation directors shared that they were having drivers take the buses out on occasional runs, so they didn’t sit too long.
Kimberly DeHaven, the supervisor of transportation for Englewood Schools in Colorado, added in the chat that the arrangement does provide an opportunity for some mountain driving checks and ride-along training opportunities.
“School buses want to be driven,” stated Heather Handschin, the supervisor of bus operations for Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools, in the chat. “Even without students, this serves as maintenance for the fleet and training for the staff.”
Don Todd, transportation supervisor for Washington Township Schools in New Jersey, shared that his contracted drivers are doing hybrid runs and bus shuttling to and from the bus garage for repairs and training for their contract pay. Meanwhile, his non-contract sub drivers (paid only as they are used) are running spare buses down the highway on a weekly basis and doing lunch runs during the week.
“This way, they are still getting paid something and enough to keep them on my list of subs – most of them are not willing to drive students but don’t mind the non-contact duties,” he stated.
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Preventive maintenance comes down to being proactive rather than reactive, Eason stated. Small fixes now can prevent costly repairs later.
“What can we do in terms of making sure that we have a smoother operation from start to finish?” he questioned.
Zonar Fault IQ allows maintenance technicians to see all fault codes and various aspects of engine health on one dashboard, as well as take actionable steps on what to do with that information.
Zonar Sales Engineering Manager Nick Grandy termed it “diagnostics on steroids,” laid out in a way that does not require a lot of technical expertise to read. Garage managers can add information to the reports to give their staff a good way to resolve the issues. It is also easy to sort the information and pull reports, he said.
Another tool that permits increased efficiency is the new Zonar OTAir app, which was born out of a partnership with Cummins and allows engine updates to be made remotely.
The new partnership with Transfinder now facilitates integrated inspections. Using both Zonar EVIR and Transfinder Servicefinder can allow technicians to get ahead of repairs, Eason said.