RENO, Nevada – Several viewpoints were shared during the "Advances in School Bus Route Optimization" breakout session held last week during the 24th STN EXPO to help attendees seek the right solutions for their local operations.
The session was moderated by Winship Wheatley, a retired transportation director and currently an attorney and industry consultant from Annapolis, Maryland. The session included statistical input from Dr. Ali Haghani and Dr. Ali Shafani of the University of Maryland's National Transportation Center.
Dr. Haghani and Dr. Shafani hared details on a mathematical model they created for Howard County Public Schools in Maryland that shows how tiering and pairing routes can eliminate the number of school buses needed for service. Other results include time saved in deadhead minutes as well as allowing students to sleep in.said shifting bell times can reduce buses and save money.
Dr. Shafani said computers can determine the shortest route times, show details such as the number of trips, the average trip duration, and the maximum and minimum trip duration. He added that by using the least amount of buses, and by running fewer trips, driver shortages can be eliminated.
Haghani’s and Shafani’s suggestion for the best system is optimization. They do this by asking how big is the problem, how fast can the optimization be accomplished, and how good is the solution.
The session also included the perspectives of three school bus route management companies.
Tim Ammon of School Bus Consultants, the route optimization arm of TransPar Group, discussed how school districts and bus companies can define routes they are hoping to optimize. He said organizations must efficiently optimize the time of their staff members, adding that transportation departments need to know what technology is available and when.
It’s also necessary to know what best tools are available. It’s important to know how to integrate available products because, “We expect in the end, an optimization of all our products,” he said during the Sunday, July 9 breakout session. Ammon added that staff needs to be prepared by making the most of their resources.
Dan Roberts, a consultant for Transfinder, addressed optimization by saying safety must be maximized, and that this can be achieved with proper mapping edits and GPS. Roberts commented on Transfinder’s role in assisting customers by saying, “Whatever you buy, we’re going to integrate your products.”
He suggested that many considerations should be integrated into optimization such as dispatchers talking with parents, and student attendance being tracked at bus stops. Roberts also said that while working with all vendors, Transfinder integrates GPS and camera data (camera feeds used to verify attendance). Roberts commented, “We’re developing more and more products and we’re trying to be efficient, but safety comes first.”
Also joining the discussion was Ted Thien, vice president and general manager of school transportation Tyler Technologies, Inc. He said transportation consists of administration, staff, and parents and community. Thien described the three-legged stool of transportation: Service, safety, and efficiency.
“We can calculate a plan to run our fleets,” said Thien. “We must define the problem set.” The set he explained, consists of knowing student requirements, such as equipment and aide requirements, and knowing discipline issues.
Thien said examples of the problem set include knowing/deciding who sets bell times, knowing if there is open enrollment, and if charter or private schools are included, knowing sexual predator locations, and clearly understanding the district’s geography.
Thien noted the importance of having an intelligent mapping system. Recommended is a system that includes multiple speed sets, turning restrictions, cross street restrictions, (including one-way streets), smart boundaries, i.e., walk boundaries, and an updatable map.
Thien said the key performance indicators for routing efficiency include riders per route, per mile, and per minute. Other goals for efficiency depend on the types of students riding the bus, whether charter, public, private, or special needs students.