Ensuring safety and efficiency in school transportation is a top priority for schools. However, a quality transportation system requires high upfront as well as operational and overhead costs.
Given that overall school budgets are restricted, many schools struggle to find the balance between providing quality educational facilities and quality transportation.
While GPS based school bus tracking systems have helped to alleviate many concerns, the latest technology advances in route optimization have taken school bus tracking to the next level, offering an unprecedented level of safety, efficiency, cost reductions and profitability.
What is School Bus Route Optimization?
Modern day School Bus Route Optimization is a highly advanced iterative process, employing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to greatly simplify the complex task of planning and allocating bus routes.
It collects and analyzes data on scores of parameters as well as real world conditions and uses a dynamic algorithm to calculate the most efficient / cost effective routes for a school bus fleet.
Route optimization happens in multiple ways: aligning optimal number of bus stops to form a route; changing the order in which bus stops are visited; grouping some stops together to reduce distance traveled; modifying seating capacity/ vehicle selection as per the students on a route, etc. An advanced route optimization software can even suggest alternate routes in real time to avoid traffic and save extra fuel.
1.Maximize Route Efficiency
Gone are the days of manual route allocations, which only considered one or two parameters and allocated routes on an annual basis.
Today, the AI based system can account for scores of parameters simultaneously, such as geo-coded address points, school attendance zones, bell times, maximum bus loads, student ride times, trip durations, preferred pick up points, turn restrictions by bus size, height/ weight restrictions by roads, one-way zones, forced right side pick-ups and more!
The end result is a complete set of optimized bus routes, along with passenger and driver details and route driving instructions.
2.Maximize Student Safety
While efficiency is extremely important, ensuring student safety is paramount. Little children easily get tired and are also more vulnerable to threats while on the way to the bus stop, hence it is important that the walking distance from the home to the bus stop is kept to a minimum.
Similarly, children with special needs too need to be picked up near their home, so that their safety is never compromised. Children living near hazardous areas may need house pick-ups or if road conditions are not safe for crossing, they may require a pick-up on the right side of the road.
All such special considerations are accounted for by the route optimization system, to ensure every child’s special needs are given priority.
3.Detailed Route Instructions
The system empowers drivers by providing turn by turn driving instructions, bus stop details as well as student details for every trip. This leaves very little to driver discretion, which not only puts them at ease, but also makes them more accountable to follow instructions.
The most unsettling time for a school transportation system is the reopening of the school term, and dealing with all the changes that have taken place, viz., new roads, housing societies, new set of students starting or leaving school, students transferred from one school to another, new custody arrangements, pick up points, etc.
In a manual system incorporating all these changes would be nothing short of a nightmare. But an automated route optimization program ensures that all these changes are accounted for at any time of the year, without compromising the goals of on-time efficiency and safety.
The best thing about AI aided systems is that the system uses live as well as historical data points to keep learning and improving. By collecting and analyzing real time environment, traffic and road conditions it can predict delays and come up with contingency routes on the go, saving time as well as fuel costs.
6.Advanced Planning Features
The system can analyse existing route plans, compare route costs, highlight inefficiencies for a given fleet and even carry out advanced ‘what if’ analysis. E.g., when redistricting is required due to any reason, the system helps to evaluate the impact of changes in school boundary zones, changed student eligibilities etc.
For every variation, one can visualize the demographic community clusters, students, bus stops and routes affected as well as impact on costs.
7.Interactive Route Planner
The route planner user interface is simple, easy to use and very intuitive. Transport managers can easily access it from a desktop and input all details such as student addresses, vehicle details, etc.
They can set goals and parameters, run reports, discuss them and again fine tune the route allocations until they get a satisfactory route plan.
Similarly, parents and school authorities can input a new address through a smartphone app, track the live location of the bus, check route and bus stop details and also receive notifications on route changes on the app.
8.Saving on Fuel Costs
Fuel is the single largest contributor to school transportation costs. But when school buses ply on the most efficient routes every day of the week, with optimal number of stops on a route, it results in less miles travelled, less idling – and therefore, less fuel consumed for each school bus.
9.Saving on Vehicle and Driver Costs
The ideal end result of a route optimization process is a minimum number of school buses servicing maximum number of students, covering maximum area within a given school boundary, in a minimum time.
Over a period of time, schools realize that they can do more with less, and so may end up removing excess school buses from their fleet. This automatically has a direct impact on number of drivers, and attendant wages as well as overheads.
10.Saving on Maintenance Costs
School buses running on the shortest possible routes means less time on the roads. Also, when number of bus stops are optimized / grouped together, it means buses are driven optimally, with fewer starts and stops and minimal idling. The system also helps to avoid traffic congestion.
All of this means lesser wear and tear of school buses, and lower maintenance expenses across the entire fleet.
With rapid technology innovations in school bus tracking technology, advanced school bus tracking system with AI based route optimization are now available and fast becoming accessible to more and more schools.
There is no doubt that this technology will not only reduce costs and help make school transportation a more profitable business, but also have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and overall school image.
For those schools who are still struggling with traditional routing and scheduling methods – what are you waiting for?
Call us for a free demo today!