Digital fleet management: A practical, tech-driven solution for challenges facing school bus transportation

The yellow school bus is an iconic presence in the US. It makes up for the largest public transportation fleet in the country, with almost 500,000 vehicles ferrying an estimated 26 million students to and from their centre of learning daily. This ubiquity is driven by the benefits associated with school bus transportation. For one, they are more affordable, particularly for students from low-to-middle income households and are much safer than other means of transport. To add to that, a single school bus in the US replaces the need for approximately 36 private vehicles on road – not only saving 2.3 billion gallons of fuel a year but also minimizing the environmental impact and lowering traffic congestion.

The school bus transport conundrum: Conventional issues and emerging challenges

However, despite the benefits that it facilitates, school bus transportation does face several major challenges. Take, for instance, the longest commute time, which disproportionately affects students living closer to the school district limits. Long travel durations add more pressure on the busy daily schedules of schoolchildren while also eating into their personal time, thus preventing them to unwind and reduce the stress that they face. Students also must deal with behavioural issues, such as in-vehicle bullying.

The daily commute with school buses is not easy for the parents, either. To begin with, they have limited to no visibility over the vehicle’s real-time location during transit. This situational blind spot where, at least twice a day, guardians have no clue about their ward’s well-being or location leaves them uncertain and anxious for the entire duration of the daily transit. Often, parents also struggle with the impact that erratic arrival and departure timings of school buses can have on their personal schedules.

Click here to know Why digitized fleet management is the need of the hour?

The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 has also given rise to several newer challenges in the school bus transportation space. As the US attempts to resume classroom-based education after a year of remote learning, the country also faces the pressure to shed the unwelcome tag of the most infected country in the world. Vaccinations notwithstanding, this can only be achieved by minimizing the risk of community transmission.

As a result, social distancing, and COVID-19 safety protocols, such as always wearing masks, must now be followed in school buses. On the one hand, school buses need to make more trips to accommodate student transport requirements. School administrations, on the other, must implement measures to ensure that social distancing, sanitization, and COVID-19 safety protocols are followed diligently across their entire fleet. Achieving this manually can be a major hassle that not only leads to higher transportation costs and administrative burden but also increases the probability of costly oversight.

This is exactly where digital school bus fleet management solutions such as SafeBus enter the fray to ensure a safer, more secure, and time-efficient transit experience for schoolchildren across the US.

Why the digitization of student transport operations is no longer a luxury for schools

Operating at the intersection of cutting-edge technological tools such as AI, data analytics, IoT, and cloud computing, digital fleet management solutions such as SafeBus automate route planning and vehicle scheduling processes. In doing so, they significantly reduce the time taken to generate fleet route maps while designing and implementing more precise, optimized routes for individual buses.

Such optimization, on the one hand, brings down transport costs (such as fuel) while, on the other, reduces the workload and administrative burden on school transport teams. The use of location-based features such as GPS and geofencing also enables these digital fleet management solutions to provide greater real-time visibility over vehicle movement to parents as well as school transport admins. The system is designed to provide real-time updates about the ETA and the students’ boarding/deboarding status to parents, who can also track the live vehicle location through a mobile app. It also raises automated alerts in case of over speeding, erratic driving, and deviation from the set route, enabling transport admins to intervene immediately, as, and when required.

Click here to know How to maximize school bus transportation security?

Students are also amongst the major beneficiaries of this digital intervention. With their average trip duration typically brought to under an hour, they have more free time on their hands to engage in leisure activities, sleep, or learn new skills. Moreover, as digital fleet management solutions come integrated with in-vehicle cameras, instances of troubling instances such as bullying can be monitored and minimized. Furthermore, students have the option to give feedback on the driver behaviour on the app and raise an SOS alert in case of an emergency, allowing them to intimate their parents as well as the school transport teams about any issue.

These solutions also come with several features that make them essential in the new normal that has arisen in the wake of the pandemic. For instance, they allow transport admins to define ‘red zones’, enabling them to automatically avoid areas with a heavy concentration of COVID-19 cases during the route planning process. Vehicle sanitization schedules can also be tracked more effectively through automated checklists that enable transport admins to roll out only those buses that have been adequately sanitized for safe transport.

These checklists can also be used to alert transport managers when COVID-19 safety resources, such as masks and sanitisers, are due to be replenished in each vehicle, as well as to conduct regular driver temperature checks. The in-vehicle monitoring feature can also be used to identify instances of safety protocol violations within the bus and trigger the most relevant remedial measure. All of this combines to minimize the risk of accidental COVID-19 transmission during the transit to and from the school, thus ensuring a safer, more secure school bus experience for students.

Given the multiple benefits that they unlock for students, school administrations, and parents, it is safe to say that the digitization of school bus fleet operations is no longer a matter of possibility – merely that of time.

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