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Idling Gets You Nowhere
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Idling Gets You Nowhere

Written by Dean Suhre, Chief Operating Officer

Our First Student values start with a “Focus on Safety” because safety is at the heart of everything we do. In practice, that means taking steps every day to protect students and the communities we serve. These steps include driver training, rigorous safety protocols but also, an effort to look at the whole environment that students experience. A major piece of that effort is our focus on reducing school bus idling.

First Student continues to work at lowering our fleet’s carbon footprint and conserving fuel by focusing on accountability, measuring performance and launching new campaigns devoted to reining in idling as much as possible. As always, our goals and objectives are guided by our focus on safety within the communities we serve.

This effort reflects a commitment from every level of our organization, with First Student’s drivers, operations teams, and leadership all contributing to a culture that prioritizes safety as well as environmental stewardship.

First Student’s idling reduction strategy includes three key initiatives:

  1. Accountability: We reduce idling by enhancing our idling monitoring capabilities. We implemented two programs: The Daily Dispatch and DriverScore. These programs provide daily reports of idling levels, among other factors, across First Student’s school bus fleet, allowing us to set, measure and enforce idling benchmarks.
  2. Reduction: This past winter, First Student launched our “Idling Gets You Nowhere” blitz- a data-driven, company-wide initiative aimed at reducing idling through heightened driver awareness of fuel conservation strategies. The campaign yielded improvements in our overall vehicle idling.
  3. Electrification: First Student is rapidly expanding its electrified school bus fleet, replacing emission-producing diesel buses with carbon-free, environmentally friendly vehicles. So far, our electric buses have eliminated 8.1 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Daily Dispatch & DriverScore: Reducing Idling Through Accountability

First Student’s The Daily Dispatch and DriverScore programs are key parts of our idling reduction strategy. These programs allow First Student to set, measure and enforce daily benchmarks for idling.

Introduced in 2016, The Daily Dispatch tracks 21 metrics across our fleet of 55,000 vehicles every day, including idling. This report records the number of times a driver idles, what percentage of their route included idling, and total idling time. These figures provide First Student with actionable data it needs to quickly identify and alert drivers that display abnormal idling levels, enabling next-day coaching to address and prevent the problem.

DriverScore is an innovative mobile program designed to enhance safety by monitoring driver behavior and sharing back key metrics to managers for coaching opportunities with the driver. The program is all about safety. It has a particular focus on idling, among other key metrics like hard braking, rapid acceleration and speeding.

Developed by First Student’s in-house data science team, this program uses GPS to detect and record safety-related events, including idling, pinpointing and sharing opportunities with drivers to reduce unnecessary idling. Drivers are evaluated on their performance through a 1 to 5 star rating system, encouraging them to adopt safer driving habits to achieve higher scores.

The visibility of the program fosters a competitive yet friendly atmosphere among drivers, aiming to boost morale and make driving safer and more enjoyable, ultimately benefiting the students and communities they serve.

Idling Gets You Nowhere

Our “Idling Gets You Nowhere” campaign, which just wrapped up a dynamic, 12-week education blitz, is designed to educate and encourage First Student drivers to reduce vehicle idling. We are proud to announce this program saved more than 33,000 gallons of fuel. That equates to more than 648,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions not emitted in the air of the communities we serve.

Each Monday of the campaign, participants received an engaging video that debunked common myths about idling, paired with practical tips on how to avoid unnecessary idling. To reinforce the campaign’s weekly messages, posters were distributed highlighting the myth debunked that week.

Further deepening its impact, the campaign compiled and shared the achievements of the previous month fostering a culture of transparency and collective progress.

Combined, this approach not only educated but also empowered First Student drivers to take actionable steps toward reducing their carbon emissions.

Electrification and the Road to Zero Emissions

The most impactful aspect of First Student’s strategy to reduce idling is the rapid growth of its electric school bus fleet, which is phasing out diesel buses with zero-emission vehicles. Electric buses don’t emit diesel exhaust when idle because they use battery power for heating, cooling and propulsion.

Switching from a diesel to an electric school bus can cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 54,000 pounds annually, a large percentage of which comes from idling. We lead North America in school bus electrification, having driven nearly three million miles in electric buses, significantly more than all of our competitors. We have also commited to electrify 30,000 diesel buses by 2035, which will reduce idling emissions and boost the health, safety and experience of our students.

First Student’s Promise

First Student is committed to providing the best student experience. Reducing school bus idling, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint and conserving fuel is one way we serve our students and communities. Through continued vigilance and the implementation of innovative strategies, we will continue to Focus on Safety in all our operations.