Changes in tomorrow’s transportation programs can seem far away when school districts are focused on meeting the needs of today. But technology is changing in ways that increase student safety and the level of service a district can provide, making it more important than ever to take advantage of new solutions. That’s what California district Twin Rivers Unified School District (USD) is doing.
“You're always looking to improve what’s happening in transportation,” said Timothy Shannon, director of transportation services for Twin Rivers USD. “You’re looking for that next best thing that’s going to make things better, because this is all about students and students’ success.”
Shannon, who was featured in the September 2017 issue of School Transportation News for his forward-thinking technology use at the district, knows first-hand how hard it can be to manage without the right technology support. The 2008 merger that created Twin Rivers USD required four transportation groups to become one centralized department, serving 58 sites and 32,000 students over 127 square miles. “We were in disarray without the ability to plan, monitor and efficiently run the operation,” recalled Shannon. Problems were mounting up: Late busing, inefficient routing, lack of driver accountability and more.
With a background in photo development before he transitioned to the student transportation industry, Shannon has always loved to learn about the latest technology breakthroughs, as he saw in the transition from manual to digital photography. Facing the challenges at Twin Rivers USD, he naturally looked to technology for a solution, including the implementation of the Versatrans® transportation management suite, developed by Tyler Technologies.
“The Tyler software package was the first step to move the department out of the dark ages and change the mindset of our district,” explained Shannon. “When we first started, we entered all of our traditional routes, and discovered the chaotic, unproductive system we had been working with. This new software gave us the ability to visualize our routes, reassess how they were driven, plan efficient routes, print accurate driving instructions, monitor timeliness of buses and track our students.”
Due to route consolidation, bell time studies, and other efficiency measures within Versatrans, Twin Rivers has saved more than $750,000 in operating costs. The reduced routes allowed the district to consolidate down to one bus terminal, resulting in further savings. “The Versatrans software suite has saved the school district a significant amount of money, and at the same time elevated the transportation department to be known as ‘technology driven’ and a leader in our area,” said Shannon.
A major focus of the technology implementation at Twin Rivers USD is the creation of eco-friendly, paperless processes. For example, they now manage activity trip requests using the Versatrans Triptracker® solution. “Triptracker has really brought us into the new century of trip requesting,” explained Shannon. “We don’t even accept paper for field trips. With Versatrans, requests go through the process for budget approval and then it comes to us. We have seen a 60-80 percent reduction in field trip support calls.”
Twin Rivers USD is also focused on the future of the vehicles themselves. They used the tools in Versatrans to gather data about the needs and locations of their students, which made it possible for them to secure a $7.5 million grant from their local air district. This grant allowed them to purchase 16 new electric buses, and the district is now part of the largest electric fleet pilot in the nation. “Not only do we have this excellent tool, but we also have more time and money to replace our outdated school bus fleet with new, clean-air, safe and efficient buses,” said Shannon. “It’s a win-win for the community we serve and our district.”
“School districts can see that the world is changing. Transportation must change with it,” said Shannon. Asked where he thinks transportation is heading in the long-term future, he said, “You’re going to have autonomous vehicles, where you’re just going to have a bus monitor that rides the bus and is able to talk with students and interact with them. Something I see coming is the school bus as an actual mobile learning center, where we have Wi-Fi on the bus and it’s a continuation of the classroom at the school.”
As technology moves forward, Twin Rivers USD will be moving with it, and looking one step ahead.