For many decades, the problem of school bus routing has been a challenging topic for school administrators across North America and beyond. Academic researchers have been studying this topic for decades. In most cases, administrators do the planning manually. With punctuality, student safety, and cost management all of paramount importance, it can be a complex and challenging task for even the most proficient administrator or dispatcher. That’s why many districts are taking advantage of bus route planning software solutions. These apps help reduce errors, improve efficiencies, and ultimately reduce costs associated with transportation.
In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of school bus route software and critical considerations to take into account in planning these routes. We’ll also discuss the key features to look for when choosing a routing software solution. We hope you find this useful for tracking buses in your school district!
Table of Contents
The Basics of Planning Routes for Buses
How Hard is it to Plan Optimal Routes?
Bus planning is a vast and complex undertaking for districts across the US and beyond. When you think about all the variables involved in getting massive numbers of students from their homes to their respective schools every day and on time, it’s a mighty impressive feat! And it wouldn’t be possible without a serious commitment to effective route planning, whether it be manual or automated with software.
For more information, check out our:
Guide to the Best Route Planner Apps in 2020
In the following sections, we’ll take a closer look at the importance of routing and the key considerations that need to be taken into account when planning routes for buses.
Importance of School Bus Routing
Just as businesses depend on effective transportation management to ship their products to customers or deploy field service workers, administrators rely on proper planning to shuttle students to and from various locations.
It is an integral element of each school’s day-to-day operations. If students miss the bus along the way, buses arrive late, or students miss their ride home, there can be serious consequences related to student safety and the smooth delivery of classroom education.
In addition to operations and safety issues, poor planning can be costly. Fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance costs can vary substantially, depending on the efficiency of the routes used by school bus drivers. Managing a fleet of buses can be high, which is why proper management is vital. These costs must be accounted for in the budget (usually stretched thin as it is), meaning less money is available to allocate to other operations or programs delivered by the bus contractors and operators.
In summary, an effective bus plan is crucial because it can:
- affect student safety;
- impact daily operations (e.g., if buses arrive late, it can disrupt classes); and,
- result in cost savings.
8 Major Challenges When Planning School Bus Routes
Many challenges must be taken into account when routing your buses.
Ensuring Student Safety
Typically, the safety of the path will correlate with the amount of traffic and speed limits – low-traffic streets with lower speed limits are often the safest option. An exception to the rule is when the street’s design makes it challenging to navigate with a bus (e.g., sharp turns, narrow lanes, tiny roundabouts, etc.)
Getting Students to School on Time
Delivering students to their school before the first bell of the day rings is paramount. Added layers of complexity arise when students on the same bus must be dropped off at multiple schools (e.g., elementary, middle, and high school).
Walking distance to home
The shorter, the better, unless the student must walk through an unsafe area or busy street. A good planner must avoid these situations.
Keeping Travel time at a minimum
Time is a crucial factor when optimizing routes. The travel time for each student is an essential factor for consideration. It is also vital to look at the average across all students. It may be that the ideal way results in a longer ride for one student, but a shorter trip for several students.
The main costs associated with all routes are fuel consumption and wear and tear on the vehicle. Neither of these factors is entirely predictable (fuel costs fluctuate, and unscheduled maintenance can occur), but proper planning can certainly help mitigate costs.
Avoiding road and traffic conditions
Traffic congestion can wreak havoc on a schedule while poorly maintained roads can cause more wear and tear on the vehicle.
Choosing the right pick-up points
If a school only has a limited number of pick-up/drop-off points for students, this must be taken into consideration when scheduling the arrival and departure of buses.
Tracking Deadhead Times
Deadhead time refers to the amount of time a vehicle is on the road without carrying any passengers. In other words, it’s costly idle time for the bus driver and vehicle.
With these critical variables and others to factor in, a manually routing plan becomes a cumbersome, time-consuming task. That’s why many educational districts are turning to school bus routing software to assist with planning.
Furthermore, while some of the above considerations generally apply to routing, many are specific to a routing program. This fact makes it necessary for districts to zero in on finding routing software that is specific to them, e.g., a school bus routing solution.
13 Features to Consider When Choosing School Bus Route Planning Software
Searching for school bus routing software that will suit the specific needs of your school district for tracking school buses? In this section, we’ll review the key features to include in a school bus management software. As noted in the above section, school bus routing planning presents some unique considerations that don’t apply to other types of route planning, such as last-mile delivery or field service route planning.
A quality bus routing software solution should include features to address these unique considerations. Key features to look for include:
A core function of any planning software, route optimization relies on sophisticated algorithms to determine the most efficient way forward. Ideally, it includes navigation with maps and directions, as well as details for the location of every stop.
Advanced Routing Information
Is there support for the bus contractor to be able to track times, runs, and shift capabilities according to varying demands. For instance, if a student no longer needs a drive that morning.
Real-time GPS tracking
You’ll want great GPS for school buses. GPS tracking helps solve the routing problem and allows tracking for dispatchers and administrators. Ideally, they can keep track of buses in real-time. School bus GPS routing also enables the tracking of crucial information, such as fuel consumption and mileage. The GPS technology and GPS tracking systems may also give real-time information on the whole fleet on a map-based tool.
Bus Driver Management
Manage drivers’ schedules and ensure safe and secure communication between drivers, dispatchers, and administrators.
Dispatch Management and Communication
Enables real-time communication between drivers and dispatchers or administrators, so they can problem solve unexpected disruptions that crop up, such as emergencies, delays, etc.
Driver Mobile App
It is integral that bus drivers have easy access to the routing program while traveling on their way. Mobile deployment on iPhone and Android is a must.
Parent-Specific Mobile App
Provide parents with real-time updates on when the bus will be arriving at their child’s pick-up/drop-off point.
Administrator Desktop Software
The installation of a version of the software portal on the desktop may be useful. Users will want to consider Mac and Windows business options.
Student Information System
It is crucial that staff and teachers have the systems to track their students’ users. This information includes phone numbers and bus stops and resources relative to each student.
This functionality is more useful for administrators. They can monitor productivity, gain further insight, and view records of vehicles. The application of this information can be relevant for internal like training and externally; it can help relations with vendors in negotiating order of parts.
Calendar-Based Scheduling and Routing
Plan for current and future semesters, holidays, sporting events, field trips, and more with calendar-based scheduling.
Field Trip Management
Manage every element of the field trip, including permission slips and driver invoices.
Student Tracking Tools
Track when and where to get on/off the bus using a student ID number, bar code, or card technology.
What is School Bus Route Planning?
School transportation planning is a complex organization of organizing the safest and most efficient route for all students to get to school. It means gathering and processing a tremendous amount of data (total students, total buses, drivers) to generate the most optimal routes that keep also reduce costs and time to a minimum.
What is the Best School Bus Routing App?
The answer to this kind of question is: it depends on your needs. The more elaborate answer is to identify the problems you seek to solve, to quantify them (how much is it costing you), and then find an app that will give you the best return on investment.
As you can, the creation of a management system to do the creation of routes, school bus monitoring, and student tracking is quite complicated. As a school bus manager, there is so much student data, special needs, and vehicle tracking data, that it makes route management and asset management a high-level challenge. With a sound transportation management system, it means the whole school transportation operation can be simplified. We hope this article has helped you identify a list of benefits to look for in mapping your fleet. We hope your experience in implementation will be smooth sailing (or… driving!) As always, please let us know if we’ve missed anything. Until then, we with happy routing!