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Maximizing Fleet Operations for Student Transportation During COVID-19

Transportation technology provider Zonar and its partners shared tips and tricks for getting the most out of school buses and district budgets in a time when much is expected of transportation departments that have even fewer resources.

Keeping Buses Ready to Roll

“At Zonar, we know that safety starts even before the bus leaves the lot,” said Terry Dell, who serves as senior director of channel sales. This, he told attendees in a Monday Product Showcase during the virtual Bus Technology Summit, is where Zonar’s EVIR system can help drivers complete accurate pre- and post-trip checks, including COVID-19 health precautions.

Touchless solutions can play a part in contact tracing. Zonar Z-Pass provides student ridership tracking while also allowing drivers to check students in if they do not have their card, Dell explained. Verify allows drivers to see a verified student roster, while MyView gives parents and families peace of mind as students travel to and from school.

Zonar’s options for fleet health and maintenance include the new Coach program, which pinpoints driver errors and gives them a chance to fix unsafe behaviors before they get in an accident. Attendees showed interest in Coach’s AI features.

Everyone is trying to ensure the maximum amount of safety and comfort as students return to school, Dell assessed. Many attendees indicated that their districts are doing a hybrid model of remote and in-person classes. Most also said that they were manually tracking COVID-19 bus cleaning, often with paper and a clipboard.

Partnerships for Efficiency

In another Monday Product Showcase that was a collaboration between Zonar and Cummins, it was stressed that COVID-19 has made it even more important for districts to keep their fleets running optimally and maximize them to carry as many students as possible.

Zonar’s Fault IQ shows buses that need work to be road-ready with red marks. Once fixed, a green indication is shown. A predictive maintenance feature helps technicians get out ahead of problems.

“Go from red to green, then maintain,” summarized Krista Reasoner, manager of channel marketing for Zonar.

Nick Grandy, senior sales engineer at Zonar, elaborated that dispatchers can take information from school bus drivers and input it for technicians, thus improving operational efficiency.

Katie Johnston with Cummins shared that the company also offers tools for fleet health and efficiency. Connected Diagnostics shows bus health, allows transportation fleet managers to drill down and suggests root mechanical causes. Connected Adviser also provides a summary report on engine issues that need to be addressed.

A new partnership this year between Zonar and Cummins introduces OTAir, which allows engine updates to be done remotely and much faster than before.


Related: ‘Let’s Talk’ Data, Maintenance Software at the Bus Technology Summit
Related: 2020 Garage Stars Announced: Recognizing School Bus Maintenance Professionals
Related: What ‘Uptime’ Means for the School Bus Garage
Related: COVID-19 Uncertainty Keeps School Bus Garage Experts on Their Toes
Related: Zonar CEO Opens Bus Technology Summit With ‘CASE’ for Technology Investments


Robert Samuel, who serves as EBU digital commercial director at Cummins, revealed that the INLINE Mini update system for engines older than 2017 and the related Guidanz app is offered to eligible users free of charge for a limited time.

Meanwhile, Gary Schmidt, senior vice president of OEM Connected Solutions at Zonar, noted that Cummins and Zonar have partnered to offer these solutions with the goal of making things easier for school districts who may be suffering from staffing shortages.

Samuel reminded listeners that Cummins publishes updates because they are needed, much like a cellphone needs to be updated to work optimally.

“What you want to see is no fault codes,” he explained, adding that the goal is to keep things from getting to the point where fault codes must display.

Funding to Support School Bus Safety & Security

We’ve all been impacted by the coronavirus, but school districts have been hit especially hard—and tight budgets don’t help, said Ryan Sharkey, director of enterprise sales at Zonar. The company’s “Learn, Design, Apply” program was designed to help districts find and apply for grants that can help them in these trying times. Zonar experts can assist even after the grant has been awarded.

“We see these challenges as opportunities,” said Andrew Henshaw, vice president of business development for Learn Design Apply. It helps with school security and violence reduction as well as COVID-19 sanitization and contact tracing. He recommended starting with a group discussion so there is stakeholder alignment, then determining what grants would align best with district needs.

Formula-based grants are non-competitive and are awarded to a district in alignment with policies. Competitive grants come with a set of eligible uses and a timeframe for completion of activities.

The COPS School Violence Prevention Program was set up to increase security at schools and on school property, including school buses. Eligible items, Henshaw listed, include entry control equipment, cameras, emergency alert systems, GPS and route tracking, and ID card scanners.

The STOP School Violence Program grant helps districts develop and implement threat assessment teams or technology. Henshaw noted that Zonar’s EVIR and Z-Pass would be eligible for funding under this grant.

Funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act are generally allotted to local governments but Henshaw said school districts have successfully applied for this, if the money goes toward public health and safety because of the coronavirus.

After having two school buses stolen, a large district in urban Alabama plans to seek STOP funds to purchase Zonar GPS, EVIR, Z-Pass, panic buttons, and related equipment.

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