Why Focusing on the Driver Satisfaction is Necessary in the Post-pandemic School Bus Transportation Landscape?

The viral outbreak has thrown our industries and society into disarray. As our nation continues to grapple with this extraordinary situation, one of the spheres worst affected by the outbreak has been the schooling sector and, with it, the school bus industry. With the elimination of physical instruction, school transportation service providers have had to bear the brunt of the pandemic, resulting in mounting debt and job losses. 

The COVID-19 variable exacerbating the job worries

School bus drivers are facing a lot of uncertainty about their jobs. Paired with unclear instructions on how and when schools in their district will reopen, along with ambiguity regarding the safety measures being implemented, the prospects of the return of drivers appear bleak.

The challenges are compounded when one considers the driver demographic. The average age of the American school bus driver is 56 years, putting them in a vulnerable spot as far as health and safety are concerned. Against this backdrop, most of them may opt for a job opportunity with lower risks to health.

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The driver shortage has always been a challenge faced by school districts and the pandemic has only aggravated it. A recent survey reveals that almost four-fifths of school transportation officials admit to struggling with the shortage of school bus drivers, with more than half of school districts believing that it would take about three months or more to bring transport operations back to normalcy.

As the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is passed and schools begin to reopen in a phased manner, the problem of driver retention is also getting foregrounded. Schools in Milwaukee reported only 60 to 70% of their drivers returning upon the reopening of schools. Coupled with the driver shortage and the remaining drivers being overworked, the situation appears grim.

This is precisely where SaaS-based fleet management solutions enter the picture to help school districts and transport managers to boost driver retention while ensuring their health and safety.

Adopting an empathe’tech approach to alleviate driver anxieties

One of the main problems to be dealt with is the anxiety and insecurity created among the drivers in the wake of the pandemic-led job losses. As drivers return to their jobs, they need to be treated with respect and empathy. The onus of taking the necessary steps falls on transport managers who must ensure that all the queries from the drivers’ end are answered and their grievances addressed.

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Setting expectations is crucial. When drivers are aware of what is expected of them, they are more likely to meet those expectations, thereby leading to greater satisfaction. The key to making them feel respected is to make them feel heard and appreciated for the work they are doing. To this end, transport managers can conduct regular surveys and reviews using any of the various tech tools available in the market.

Further, alleviating the pandemic-induced anxiety rests on how much the transport managers can produce the expectation of longevity in the drivers. For instance, if the drivers feel that they are replaceable, they will be demotivated. Transport managers can avoid this by assigning trips based on seniority. 

Rewarding the drivers for the quality of their operations will depend on the analysis of huge volumes of data. Cutting-edge software can help transport professionals to evaluate the drivers’ performance on various parameters, including punctuality, behavior, efficiency, etc., and reward them accordingly.

 Besides this, driver satisfaction can also be improved by eliminating operational bottlenecks, especially when it comes to disbursing salaries. SafeBus, for instance, can generate invoices automatically, thus eliminating the possibility of delays in payments. Implementing such measures streamline the management system and establish a clear line of communication between drivers and their employers, thereby improving driver confidence and giving them a sense of stability.

Enforcing robust health, hygiene, and safety measures

As drivers come in contact with various people, places, and surfaces on a daily basis, ensuring their insulation from the virus is critical. Tech-enabled solutions such as SafeBus offer provisions including automated sanitization checklists and regular temperature monitoring for drivers and passengers. The software can, for instance, send alerts to the transport admins in real-time in case a person shows signs of fever or illness during the temperature check. The person can then be immediately isolated.

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SafeBus is powered by AI, machine learning, and algorithms that can drive intelligent route planning and introduce changes to a pre-determined route in real-time. As a result, drivers can seamlessly steer clear of not only COVID-19 hotspots but also irregular traffic conditions, be it road congestion or an accident.

Enabling seamless communication between driver and transport manager

Traditionally, the driver is in charge of managing student boarding/deboarding and ensuring that decorum is maintained while focusing on the road. This can put undue pressure on the driver, leading to weariness and exhaustion. The task becomes more arduous in the post-pandemic landscape as the driver would also need to ensure that safety protocols are not being violated.

SafeBus can step in here to reduce the burden on the driver by enabling increased participation of transport admins. Through real-time in-vehicle monitoring transport managers can remotely ensure that social distancing is being maintained and students are wearing their masks. The automated system also sends out regular updates about each student’s boarding/deboarding status and ETAs.

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In addition, students are provided with a soft SOS button that they can use in case of emergency to alert the driver, the school admins, as well as their parents on their respective applications. This feature allows the drivers to take prompt intervention to prevent and mitigate instances of misbehavior on the bus.

Integrating technologies can help school districts and transport managers to streamline the fleet management processes while delivering optimal experience to all the stakeholders, including bus drivers, students as well as their parents. The future may be uncertain, but it can also be better, smarter, and healthier. And digital technology has the potential to unlock such a future for all.

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