Vehicle maintenance and performance monitoring in a new-age digital fabric Written By Jim Romeo


n early December 2018, a school bus in Commack on New York’s Long Island was transporting 21 students between the ages of

8 and 11, when it suddenly became filled with smoke. The cause was unknown, but eight of the children were transported to the hospital. In Oklahoma City in May 2018,

it took a local news investigative team to uncover the case of 75 of the local school district’s buses— approximately one-third of the entire fleet—had significant defi- ciencies that required repair: Bad brakes, broken parking brakes and broken emergency exits. In South Carolina, the situation

is currently even more dire. Over the last several years, news reports found a long line of school bus problems in Greenville. According to articles and data that are available from the state’s education depart- ment, South Carolina school buses (there are over 5,500 statewide) break down between 220 to 250 times ev- ery week. The investigations found that South Carolina school buses

broke down 91,430 times between 2011 and 2017, due mostly to aging buses and inexperienced drivers. With those cases and others in mind, if there’s ever a time for fleet transportation managers to seriously explore adopting new technology for remote performance monitoring and diagnostics, it is now. While continually strained capital

budgets, coupled with more sluggish and older networks (for example, relying on 4G vs. emerging 5G net- works) that are slowing the adoption of such technology by fleet manag- ers, school districts are beginning to see the value of remote monitoring. Slowly but surely, districts are get- ting onboard with the dividends that such technology can offer. Comal Independent School

District in New Braunfels, Texas, for example, uses a platform by Samsara for its 250 school bus- es. Samsara’s platform, like many others, is comprehensive. It can be used for route optimization, vehicle tracking and other functions, as well as maintenance and perfor-

24 School Transportation News • FEBRUARY 2019

mance monitoring of mechanical equipment and systems. The district’s fleet maintenance

technicians monitor and quickly identify mechanical issues. They may order parts and plan a repair— even before a driver is aware there’s an issue. They’re also able to message drivers if there’s an urgent issue. And they know the whereabouts of a problem bus so they can react and dispatch a backup bus if needed. Elsewhere, Valley School District in

Washington state recently installed a remote monitoring platform from UbicaBus. Like Comal’s, this platform provides location tracking and status, as well as performance monitoring.

Fleet management reports that are

generated by the technology platform provide vehicle health checks. They indicate vehicle run time and miles traveled across months of service. This aids the district’s time-based preventive maintenance programs, by providing reminders of due dates for maintenance tasks, such as fluid replacement and tire rotations.

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