Ask the Consultant: David Staples
School districts across the country are navigating the complexities of student transportation, and there aren’t always great resources for districts looking for answers. We sat down with David Staples, Sr. Consultant for First Student to answer some common questions he and his team have encountered over the years.
Q: How can a district ensure the safe transportation of their students?
The safety of students on the bus relies on an operation where safety is a core value, clearly defined and reinforced throughout every layer of the organization. It’s important to evaluate key areas of your transportation program to ensure that safety is at the forefront.
A good place to start is evaluating the effectiveness of your driver training program. Maintaining a well-trained driving staff is one of the most valuable ways to keep students safe. Often, it can be helpful to partner with an organization to evaluate and refine your training program and better prepare your training staff.
The next area of your operation that should be evaluated is your maintenance department – the team responsible for ensuring safe and reliable buses are available to your students. What systems are in place in the maintenance operation to ensure well maintained buses on the road? Does the maintenance department have the proper number of technicians to service the size of your fleet? How are mechanical malfunctions communicated and documented by driving staff? Questions like these require clearly defined answers.
A safety and operations assessment can ensure the overall strength of your district’s safety and service program. Another great way to evaluate safety and reliability of your transportation is to conduct a routing efficiency study. The goal of the study would be to decide if routes could be configured more efficiently, and from there, refine and determine the number of vehicles needed to fulfill ridership and driver requirements.
Q: How can we design efficient bus routes that ensure on time performance to school campuses?
One key factor to ensuring routes support on time performance is employing a professional and experienced router – someone who understands the intricacies of school bus routing. Combine an experienced router with the correct routing software for your district and the efficiencies will trickle down. Finding an experienced router and selecting the right routing software doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. Teams like FirstConsulting have great resources and offer routing support and software selection services that can make a large impact on your on time performance and overall efficiency. You can read more about software selection tips here.
Q: How can we reduce our transportation department expenses?
It’s important to have systems in place that ensure efficiencies in areas like routing, dispatching, driver/monitor staffing, vehicle maintenance and vehicle parts purchasing. These key areas account for most transportation costs, and if run inefficiently, will add thousands to your operating costs. In many cases, bringing in an outside professional consulting firm to conduct an in-depth analysis of the overall costs associated with these areas and the variance between an in-house operation versus outside partnership with a transportation provider. When evaluating these key areas, it’s important to consider the following:
- Routing: Well-designed routes are one of the most effective ways to reduce costs. You can reduce the number of vehicles and drivers needed to transport your students and reduce the workload of your dispatching team. Effective routing requires an experienced routing team and the correct routing software.
- Technical People: Fleet maintenance is only as effective as the team of technicians in your shop. Make sure the team working on your fleet has the right certifications, training, and resources needed to properly care for your fleet. Proper maintenance can drastically improve costs.
- Analysis: Know what’s best for your district – managing transportation in-house or partnering with a provider? Transportation providers can often reduce costs by taking advantage of their size, scale, purchasing power and experience. The good news is, you don’t have to give up all control if you’re not ready. FirstConsulting offers ongoing standalone services like routing, maintenance and operations management in addition to consulting services.
Overall, getting support from an experienced outside team can improve your on-time performance, help to reduce costs, and drive efficiency throughout your student transportation program.
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