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FIRST TAKE


Decision Time: A New Year’s Resolution


WRITTEN BY RYAN GRAY | RYAN@STNONLINE.COM A


s we turned the calendar page to 2019, we felt it was appropriate to theme this month’s January issue around the decisions that stu- dent transporters face every day. And there


are plenty of them. It’s not only a new year, but a new era for the industry.


Zero-emission school buses are a reality. Over the next year or so, the industry can expect an electric option from every major school bus manufacturer—of both large and small vehicles. After many discussions over the past couple of years,


“autonomous” technology has arrived. Added to that, collision mitigation and electronic stability controls are becoming standard safety equipment. Meanwhile, the industry prepares for the full power of 5G connectivity and its effect on how fleet managers and directors communicate with their buses, drivers and students—on the road and in real time. It’s an exciting time, no doubt. And with this new age comes more decisions than ever before. Some choices are already being made for school districts and bus companies, such as over-the-air engine updates. Meanwhile, it’s reasonable to assume that the same could also be said for remote engine and vehicle diagnostics. Ten there are the advances of automatic braking, lane departure warnings and electronic stability controls. Increasingly, I believe, the school bus OEMs will all eventually reach a tipping point, where the benefits of providing new technology will outweigh the cost. But to what extent? Will the same hold true for, say, lap-shoulder belts? Extended stop arms? For how many more decades will there be true choices to make in terms of fuel selection? And what might this all mean for the decisions you are trying to make today, but that will affect operations, employees and student riders for generations to come? Certainly, state specifications and individual user pref-


erences will continue to dictate many of the products and solutions that are installed in and on school buses, and the school buses, themselves. But the power of research, comparisons, product testing and peer-to-peer networking have never been so important as they are now.


12 School Transportation News • JANUARY 2019


As new technology has increased and promised to make our lives easier or safer, we are faced with new challenges of comprehending not only how all the bells and whistles work, but what their true effect will be on the bottom lines of cost and student safety. Te decision-making process undoubtedly also includes taking a hard look in the mirror at how school bus operations are managed and led. As one industry expert told me late last year, it’s hard to imagine another piece of equipment or another change to the school bus that would make incidents like illegal passing a thing of the past. Just like there are some vehicle crashes that are


nonsurvivable, student transporters can’t be expected to change the behavior of other motorists. Tere is no technology, so far at least, that has proven to make a true difference. Decisions to be made, reviewed and potentially even changed include key concerns like locations of school bus stops, construction of routes, and how drivers and students are trained. Ten there are the necessary resources that are required to properly manage that new routing software, camera system or maintenance program. Decision-making includes tough conversations with superintendents and school principals about school schedules and getting kids to class on time. Meanwhile, they also have to weigh these needs against the reality of increasing traffic, and student riders who live farther and farther from campus. Tere are plenty of issues to grow more anxious about.


But as we enter a new year, it’s incumbent on the industry to steer clear of making rash, emotional decisions in response to an issue, or an effort to realize a quick fix. Tere are 26 million young people and their parents


who rely on you to make the right choice. Exactly what constitutes the “correct” solution could be open for interpretation—but make it your New Year’s resolution to seek as many solutions and perspectives as possible, so you can make the most informed decision. ●


Ryan Gray Editor-in-Chief


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