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sky’s the limit for how districts and contractors, alike, can use the technology. “Currently, the payback on GPS technology is to identify routes that can be consolidated,”

explains Nathan Graf, general manager of transportation for the Houston Independent School District. “Using our GPS system, we were able to eliminate 44 routes through consolidation.” Houston uses the Synovia GPS tracking system. Mark Swackhamer, Sr., manager of fleet opera-

tions for the Houston ISD, says besides using GPS to track bus location and on-time status, the bus’ idle time can also be accurately tracked. “Trough an aggressive idle reduction program this year, we reduced our idle time by more

than 8,500 hours over a three-month period,” Swackhamer adds. “We estimated that we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 54 tons. If you don’t have the technology that allows you to accurately track and report idle time, you are guessing or you have to go to every single bus to get the information.” Another use for GPS in Houston is monitoring deceleration rates to determine the braking

habits of drivers and lessen the wear and tear on buses. “By monitoring ‘hard braking,’ we can set normal levels and retrain the people who go over

the norm,” Swackhamer says. “Drivers who hard brake more often increase maintenance costs and fuel consumption.” Driver habits are also monitored in the Columbus (Ohio) City Schools by using a computer

program that indicates the throttle position on buses. Transportation Director Steve Simmons says some bus drivers tend to push the accelerator to the floor when starting and then hard- brake to stop.

If you don’t have the technology that allows you to accurate- ly track and report idle time, you are guessing or you have to

go to every single bus to get the information. ❞ — Mark Swackhamer, Sr., Houston ISD

“We take a close look at everything as it relates to the GPS system, and this enables us to look at

driving styles,” Simmons says. “We are not ‘Big Brother,’ but we are able to monitor a driver’s actions in the school bus from the moment they step onto the bus until they get off. Tis includes driving habits and how they treat students.” Simmons notes that GPS lets him know that bus drivers got to every stop and school on time

and no classes were disrupted. “I tell them they are not just bus drivers. Tey are here to help students succeed by being safe and on time.” He says any money saved through the use of technology is funneled back to academics. “We have a very robust warranty program with our dealership. Any money we can save

through that warranty program or technology, we can funnel back to academics,” he adds. “When you extend the life of a fluid, filter or product on a school bus the costs are less, you have better engine performance, and overall longer life.” Simmons echoes the opinions of his colleagues when he says the projected savings make it

easier to take his case to the school board when money is needed. “We have an easier time going forward with our board because they know we are improving the

environment for children,” Simmons says. “We’ve replaced 280 buses over the past few years. Te new technology will do nothing but help our students. Te benefits definitely outweigh the cost. And school buses are still the safest form of transportation to and from school for students, period.” 41

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