HomePartner Updates‘I Have to Reroute. There’s a Moose at the Stop.’

‘I Have to Reroute. There’s a Moose at the Stop.’

Moose, Lynx and Bear, Oh My! Anchorage picks Transfinder as it deals with more than just a driver shortage.

Having the responsibility of transporting more than 22,000 students daily in some of the harshest conditions, one of the first actions Heather Philp took as leader of the Anchorage School District transportation department was to replace an outdated routing product with a more robust and user-friendly solution.

After seeing Transfinder’s Routefinder PLUS, she looked no further.

Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska with about 300,000 people and 2,000 square miles of terrain. By that measure, it is the fourth largest land area in the U.S. and larger than the entire state of Rhode Island by 500 square miles.

“We are a very difficult district,” she said. “We have a lot of deep, different types of routing that we do. It’s not your basic home-to-school [activity]. We do a lot of in-between pieces.”

She added: “One thing about Anchorage, you have one road in and one road out. We stretch out, from point A to point B about 80 miles.”

Just as her buses cover a lot of ground each day, Philp covered a lot of ground looking at multiple routing products to replace her antiquated routing system. When she saw Transfinder’s Routefinder PLUS, she knew it was the right solution for her district. Her IT team agreed.

“I started out as a driver and worked my way through,” said Philp, who has been with the district for 23 years. She’s been a dispatcher, a safety supervisor and is now, for the past five years, the department’s senior director.

Because of that background, Philp understands the needs of each member in the transportation department better than most, as well as the complexities of the geography that includes extreme mountainous spots that require four-wheel drive buses and on-the-fly adjustments to moose sabotaging bus stops.

Add to that a driver shortage and it becomes clear why she began laying the groundwork to bring Transfinder technology to the district.

The Back Story

More than four years ago, after Philp was promoted to the senior director position, she began to take a closer look at what routing system the department was using to map out routes for these 22,000 students attending some 80 school buildings in the district.

What was found was disconcerting.

“My routing system at the time, it was pretty antiquated,” she recalled.

Philp started looking for something new. Attending national transportation conferences and conducting her own research, she knew there had to be something better out there.

“Then when COVID happened and we were doing Chromebook deliveries and food services and all kinds of different stuff, the system was ready to implode on us,” she said. Philp credits her team with making due with what they had.

“My routing team, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they are amazing,” Philp bragged. “They made that system do things that even the service team couldn’t figure out …”

Besides having an antiquated system, Philp said the support was lackluster.

“They just kept blowing us off,” she said. She knew the district had to make a change and she looked at a number of providers, including taking a fresh look at the existing routing software. Her IT team also conducted research.

The other companies’ solutions were not any more extensive than what the district already had. Philp said one salesperson promised artificial intelligence would be “the magic button.”

“We kept saying, ‘There is no ‘magic button’ to routing … there is no magic button in transporting students.”

Two other companies didn’t even return phone calls inquiring about their systems.

Following their research, district leaders decided to take guidance from Philp and her team and go with Transfinder instead, a decision Philp is very pleased about.

“Transfinder stood out,” she said. “They stood out for many reasons. Transfinder had a lot of pieces that were new and exciting.”

Aspects of Routefinder PLUS the Anchorage transportation likes include:

  • The ability to pull up multiple routes at one time
  • The fact that it is web-based and can be accessed via any browser so the information is more readily available
  • The potential to route using a tablet for quicker turnaround

Read about how Transfinder stood out and helped the district deal with a driver shortage and other challenges.

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