Peggie Overton knows what it takes to drive accountability into a student transportation system. Overton began driving school buses at 19 years old on the congested, unpredictable roads and highways of Los Angeles for one of the nation’s largest and most dynamic school districts.
During her 29 years at Los Angeles Unified School District, Overton graduated from school bus driver to transportation supervisor, which included driver training and accident investigations. She later served as a dispatcher manager overseeing dispatch, customer service, routing and planning.
“It was an incredible experience to work in that system and be able to learn all of what it takes to manage thousands of employees and hundreds of buses in such a complex environment as Los Angeles where we transported tens of thousands of students every day,” Overton said.
“I learned that certain support systems are absolutely essential to improving the ways drivers, supervisors, dispatchers and managers collaborate to constantly improve student transportation, and a GPS system is among the most important of those support tools”
So when Overton was hired as the new transportation director at Queen Creek Unified School District in suburban Phoenix, collaborating with a trusted GPS provider was among her first priorities.
But she didn’t want just any system that provided merely dots on a map. She sought to invest in a platform that would fundamentally improve the way her department serves the district and the vastly growing Queen Creek community.
“Of course, we want our drivers to be more accountable and we want to have the detailed reports that help us drive down fuel costs and increase on-time arrivals, but we also wanted to deliver the technology to our parents and our larger community that improves their relationship with the school,” she said.
“Expectations are very high in this community, and we knew we had to get it right to deliver a system that meets those high expectations.”
Connecting Parents, Solving Problems
One of the enduring problems for any school district transportation department is managing parent calls (complaints) after a child misses the bus, or spent far too long outside in the elements waiting on the bus.
With more than 2.5 million downloads and 4.6 stars on the Apple app store (with more than 70,000 reviews), the six-year-old app has grown into an industry leader and, in many districts, set the bar for school transportation efficiency and safety.
Synovia, which is a subsidiary of CalAmp, developed the mobile app in 2015 and now delivers it to more than 300 school districts.
“For us, bringing on a GPS provider was about the entire solution, it’s about supporting our office team, our drivers and our families, so we wanted to work with a provider who we knew had experience across that spectrum,” Overton said. “We are a rapidly growing community that is transitioning from being a small-town mentality to a larger, more connected city and these are the sort of services our community expects.”
While tracking the bus is a nice first step toward greater connectivity, Queen Creek recognized the value of connecting students to their bus and delivering an extra layer of safety and security with the Student Ridership feature.
Now, parents get four push notification and email alerts per day – one each time their student boards and departs the bus in the morning and in the afternoon.
“Especially for your younger students, this is an invaluable tool for parents,” Overton said. “When you think about the anxiety a parent feels as they place their kindergarten student on that bus for the first time, or wait for them at the bus stop after school. It’s a very stressful thing and this technology helps to relieve that anxiety for parents and students.”
A Commitment to Customer Service
“Our parents love Here Comes The Bus; our staff appreciates the Synovia software and everyone loves Jonathan,” Overton said about her locally based Customer Success Manager, a former school bus driver who helped dozens of fleets across the western United States achieve the greatest return on investment from their investment in GPS fleet intelligence technology.
Synovia has long prided itself on providing first-class customer service during the initial on-boarding and throughout the life of the contract.
“Jonathan has been there every step of the way for us,” Overton related. “He’s very much part of our success and is always there to help us take the next step with the Synovia system.”
What Overton explains at Queen Creek is not unique, but part of a cultural commitment to helping school bus operations improve the way they do business.
“We know that each fleet is unique and each has different problems they are trying to solve with our software, so we strive to work hand-in-hand with every customer to tailor their reports, alerts and dashboards to hone in on their fleet’s challenges,” said Bill Westerman, vice president of software solutions for CalAmp.
“We’ve worked with customers to help them better navigate the complexities of New York City traffic congestions and tolling to some of the most rural districts in North America, where spotty cellular service makes connectivity an issue,” he continued.
“Our Customer Success team is designed to be an extension of our customer’s team and help them achieve their strongest return on investment,” Westerman summed up.
Recently, Overton spoke to Phoenix media about her investment in GPS Fleet Tracking technology from Synovia Solutions, including the Here Comes The Bus school bus tracking app and the Student Ridership technology that delivers real-time alerts to parents as students board and depart their bus.