With the new school year underway, districts are using technology already at their fingertips to solve today’s operational challenges amid COVID-19, with Wi-Fi at the forefront of discussions.
For instance, Birmingham City Schools, the fourth-largest school system in the state of Alabama, uses Samsara technology to track school buses, improve driver safety, and optimize the efficiency of its maintenance processes. The first day of school for the district was Tuesday with a full online learning model for students.
Normally, the district transports 20,000 students daily using 158 school buses. The district uses Samsara’s Vehicle Gateway, which includes a high-speed Wi-Fi hotspot to enable GPS tracking and driver connectivity. This technology allowed Birmingham to previously run routes more efficiently, which could also play a role when returning to in-person learning and navigating the social distancing requirements brought on by COVID-19.
Birmingham also leveraged the Wi-Fi hotspots to connect to the Samsara Driver App when doing pre- and post-trip inspections, which will lead to improved fleet maintenance as electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIR) are submitted by drivers automictically to create a work order for the shop, noted Rushil Goel, vice president and general manager of fleet management at Samsara.
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“We’ve released some new features to help all of our customers, including school districts, on the front lines of the virus [to] remain efficient and safe,” Goel added. “For example, customers now have the ability to tag drivers that are conducting activities related to COVID-19 response, such as delivering meals. Or customize their electronic DVIRs so that pre- and post-trip inspections now incorporate specific cleaning procedures.”
Goel said the app helps bus drivers complete inspections faster and allows for customizable forms to ensure compliance with safety and sanitization practices. For example, he said a personal protective equipment check can be added as well as a check to make sure drivers are wiping down their vehicles. The app also ensures increased visibility when the safety of students or a driver has been jeopardized.
“With digital DVIRs, once a driver marks a defect, such as a cracked windshield, and submits it to Samsara, fleet managers are notified in real-time and can respond quickly,” Goel added.
He noted that during these unprecedented times connecting those in need with internet and school supplies remains a high priority. Goel said the company has been inspired by its customers who have pivoted their fleet operations to bridge the digital divide while leveraging vans and school buses to optimize the delivery of Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops to student homes.
Editor’s Note: Read more on the conversation regarding Wi-Fi and how it is helping to bridge the digital divide in the September issue of School Transportation News.