Four Ways to Tackle Your Biggest Student Transportation Challenges

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As a transportation director or superintendent of a school district, implementing student transportation is an important task. There are multiple factors you need to address in order to maintain the safest, most effective transportation operation. We’ve identified four key factors every leader should practice to ensure the best transportation for your district, your community, and most of all, your students.

Maximize Safety

To maximize safety, build a culture of safety, then find ways to measure it.

Safety is at the forefront of every student transportation operation. While students are 70 times safer riding in a yellow school bus than in any other vehicle, injuries still occur. Many of these injuries occur in the 12-foot ‘Danger Zone’ where students get on and off the bus. Emotional injuries occur as well—up to 25 percent of students say they’ve been victims of bullying on the school bus.

Transportation directors and superintendents can maximize safety by building a culture of safety. This includes engaging and educating the community about adopting behaviors around safety in order to avoid injuries and collisions. It also includes having an updated safety plan, comprehensively training drivers in emergency procedures and bullying prevention, obtaining and maintaining the best equipment, and measuring safety monthly and annually by gathering student and staff metrics. Another way to build a culture of safety is to reinforce the good safety behaviors of your staff, which will help them adopt the best safety habits.

Overcome Driver Shortages

To overcome driver shortages, adopt a three-step approach: recruiting, training, and retention.

Finding and retaining good, caring drivers can be a challenge. And with 94 percent of school districts reporting driver shortages, it can feel like a never-ending issue. But with a solid plan in place, this issue can be addressed successfully.

To start, district leadership should collaborate with recruiting experts and the current driving team to create a three-step approach: recruiting, training, and retention. Make sure you use analytics to look at hiring trends, such as common times when people resign, move away for the winter, or re-engage with employment opportunities. Knowing these cycles will help you plan and spend recruiting dollars more effectively. You can also customize your recruiting by paying attention to trends and data in local areas, like paid training or hiring bonuses, then adjust recruiting efforts accordingly.

Consider these best practices when recruiting:

  • Hire a full-time human resources expert to lead your recruiting efforts
  • Place plenty of signage at operations, on buses, and at hiring events
  • Engage in creative outreach on local news channels and through social media
  • Stay in touch with the community by sponsoring events like parades and fairs
  • Utilize local government by contacting unemployment offices, military offices, and diversity initiatives
  • Partner with parent organizations like the PTA

During driver training, keep safety and caring as a focus by performing background checks and requiring comprehensive training. Throughout the training process, make sure you communicate proactively, checking on each driver’s progress and ensuring they’re the right fit for your district and your students.

Once you have the best drivers in place, dedicate yourself to retaining them. This can be done through creative actions like summer family BBQs, employee breakfasts, and employee appreciation days. It can also come in the form of written communication from superintendents to each driver, letting them know what an important role they play in the lives of children and how valuable they are to your district and to the community.

Leverage Technology

To leverage technology, implement tools such as bus-tracking apps, advanced routing systems, and predictive analytics.

Today’s bus technologies are improving student transportation and education in myriad ways, making it easier for you to do the same when you integrate them into your transportation plan.

To leverage technology to your advantage:

  • Install stop-arm cameras, which catch cars endangering students’ lives, and video cameras on the bus, which help monitor student behavior
  • Incorporate tablets to facilitate pre- and post-trip checks and route adherence
  • Encourage your district and your students’ parents to use bus-tracking apps, which keep tabs on buses in real-time and enable communications between the district, parents, and the transportation team
  • Utilize cloud-based student behavior tools that quickly and confidentially address behavioral issues on the bus
  • Monitor driver performance by checking for unsafe practices such as speeding
  • Invest in routing experts who create efficient routes that save districts money and save students anxiety
  • Use predictive analytics that alert the driver to issues such as low tire pressure or a possible engine failure
  • Extend the classroom through Wi-Fi-equipped buses, which address the lack of broadband in five million homes by allowing students to work on school projects or finish homework during their commutes

Measure Quality and Reliability

To measure quality and reliability, create an action plan, then follow through on a regular basis.

Three important measures of reliability are on-time statistics, driver performance, and a well-maintained fleet. These can be measured in multiple ways and should be completed regularly. Time when buses leave, then work to improve times if there’s consistent lateness. Evaluate driver performance by measuring excess idling, which burns fuel and increases cost. Perform preventative maintenance frequently and measure the miles each bus travels monthly, recording any irregularities and addressing them promptly. All of these actions help you measure the quality of your fleet, and in turn, your entire transportation operation.

When you incorporate these four key factors into your transportation plan, you can turn challenges into opportunities, making transportation to and from school work best for those it serves: your students.

To learn more about how First Student can help you tackle your transportation challenges, visit firststudentinc.com.