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Transportation Staff Share How Technology Improves Operations

A webinar with transportation staff and technology specialists was packed with tips for using technology to deal with bus routing, student behavior, driver shortages and more.

Janessa Drainville with Thursday webinar sponsor TransACT asked the panelists what steps they take in the spring and summer months to assess and adjust their operations prior to the new school year.

Michael Roche, vice president of customer engagement and business development at TransAct partner EZRouting, explained that overseeing a school year should involve four steps: Plan, Do, Study, Act. Near the end of the school year, he advised districts to study or review issues with school bus routing, bell timing, student seat assignments, and more.

Transportation Dispatcher Kelly White took Laveen School District southwest of Phoenix, Arizona, from a paper system to an electronic one in 2021 with the implementation of TransAct and EZrouting. She said she preemptively starts the assessment process before the school year has ended and brings the observations to her team to hash out and improve.

Director of Transportation Kathy Massell said that Maize Unified School District, the fastest growing district in Kansas, has also been working on coming out of the analog age involving binders full of paper. The district started using TransAct in 2021 and integrated tablets this month. Massell said her team works on evenly distributing students across routes and specifically brings school bus drivers into the office to share their insights.

Roche said he would also seek driver perspectives during his time overseeing transportation at Bellingham Public Schools in Massachusetts. He said it boosted morale since drivers were integrated into department processes, as well as giving a boots-on-the-ground perspective that helped things run smoothly and increased parent satisfaction.

Next the panel looked at one of the biggest challenges in student transportation today, student behavior. Praising positive behavior to the student, their parents, and their peers is key, White said, as problematic behaviors usually receive the focus. “All kids want is something to look forward to. Negative or positive, attention is still attention,” she cautioned.

She added that bringing classroom strategies such as positive behavior interventions and supports, or PBIS, to the school bus is a valuable addition for both students and drivers.

“Bus drivers and transportation mold the future lives of students more than most people can anticipate,” noted Drainville.

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When it comes to policy and procedural changes, communication and collaboration are key. At Maize USD, which quadrupled in size over the past few years, Massell said a walk zone of two and a half miles was implemented to combat the school bus driver shortage. She said that she printed out data from TransAct so district administration could understand why the change was needed. She added that team meals are held to help bridge gaps among staff and improve relationships since the COVID-19 pandemic.

As transportation often feels like the third wheel, Roche said that as a transportation director he would bring data and explain the “why” behind changes he proposed so stakeholders would be more favorable to them. He added that it was important to consider how decisions he made affected other departments and be in communication with them toward the common goal of student success.

Drainville noted that technology can streamline operations, enhance student safety and increase staff job satisfaction. Massell confirmed that her drivers responded well to the TransAct routing technology, which cuts down on the time needed to route students, tracks that they are getting where they need to go and reduces parent calls.

“I can’t imagine a district of our size using pen and paper anymore,” she declared. “I am looking forward to the first two weeks of school now, and I haven’t said that in 15 years.”

Rather than RFID cards for ridership verification, Roche shared that EZRouting uses QR codes that can be easily reprinted or displayed on a phone if a student loses theirs. Additionally, a driver can manually scan a student onto the bus. White added that student IDs are mandated and taken seriously throughout the district, such as at lunch lines, to reduce problems with lost cards.

Technology brings other small but significant changes to Laveen. White said updates can easily be made to data points like student information, ID pictures, allergies, pickup notes, and more, then passed on to drivers via tablet. Parents can also immediately see if their child scanned onto the bus rather than call transportation to find out.

Roche summed up that technology helps eliminate inefficiencies and errors, freeing transportation staff to focus on students and their safety.

Watch the webinar on demand.

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