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SPECIAL REPORT


Michael Shields said he ad-


dresses the need for school bus route optimization at Salem Keizer School District in Oregon by grouping several growth factors and solutions into charts: Factors: New schools, increased


program demands and ridership, cities served, boundary adjust- ments, revenue per trip (RFT) increases and summer programs. Solutions: Run efficiencies,


longer route packages, new vehicle concepts, increased route counts, fuller buses, bell-time/boundary adjustments, RFT efficiencies, and standardized arrivals/departures. Note: Boundary adjustments


appear in both groups. On a deeper level, Shields


observed that specific questions arise: How early should students arrive before the first bell? What is the earliest start time and latest dismissal time? Do changes in bell times adversely affect bus routes? Data to be collected: What is


the average student load (num- ber of riderts) per bus? Should seat utilization be at capacity, or under? What is the longest time a student should be on a bus? Policy issues: What are the


district’s bus stop criteria? (Speed, distance between stops, sight distance, number of lanes, shoul- der width, public bus stops, etc.) What is the upper time limit for layovers? How many parking lots does the district own? Where are they located? Should buses carry multiple grades? Should the district have two-tiered routes? Will gener- al education and special education students be mixed with students who are homeless and eligible for transportation? Will the district hire drivers for field trips and sporting events between regular transporta- tion to and from school?


26 School Transportation News • JULY 2019


40 routes that serve students with disabilities. Plus, over 50 van routes are dedicated to McKinney-Vento students. Routes for the 2018-2019 school year were mirrored, using the same buses in the mornings and afternoons for elementary and middle schools, but different buses roll out in the morning and afternoon for high schools. This coming school year, school start and end times will be changed “to align with sleep science.” So, middle schools and high schools will start at 8:30 a.m., and approximately 30 elementary schools will start at 7:30 a.m. This alters the “bus tiering system”


for the first time in six years, rear- ranging grades and grade mixtures. Burr’s preferred software is Versa- Trans, which analyzes time changes, new and removed students and other variables, then makes necessary ad- justments. Over five years, the school district has reduced 40 bus routes, thanks to optimization, which freed up resources for future needs. Bruce Berry is director of trans-


portation and the sole router for Black River Local Schools in Sullivan, Ohio, a rural district. Each summer, he compares and adjusts the exist- ing routes in three components: (1) Length of ride for students—some are almost an hour, which he said is too long. (2) Total route time and miles driven, with reductions as the goal. (3) Bus capacity—Berry routes at 75-percent passenger capacity, which allows for two students per seat. Ohio state law does not require transportation for students in grades nine through 12. In rural Sullivan, Ohio, 60- to 70 percent of high school students use school buses as their primary means of transpor- tation to school. Black River has 12 double-tiered route buses, running a combined middle school and high school route and returning for an elementary school route.


Berry said he was able to eliminate


one route as a result of optimization three years ago, and he expects to drop one or two more this coming school year. This coincides with in- creased numbers of McKinney-Vento students riding vans vs. buses. Black River Schools also offers one-


day student field trips to museums, historical sites and performing arts events. To satisfy a union contract, regular route drivers can accept field trips on a seniority basis, without obligation. Substitutes are used when needed. Berry, as a former school bus driver for 25 years, performs all of the transportation support jobs himself, including routing, but no longer drives routes. He uses Transfind- er Tripfinder software for field trip routing.


Of course, school bus routes are


vulnerable to last- minute changes. Unpredictable weather can wash out a high school sports game, while heavy traffic and crashes cause last-minute cancellations and rescheduling of field trips. Then a teacher might request a bus for the same afternoon. Transportation staff will try their best, but there’s a five- day cutoff for advance registrations. One major take-away from this re-


view of school bus route optimization and utilization, is that transportation managers nationwide are accepting the value of proactive, forward-look- ing planning and reallocation of resources. That is compared to the tra- ditional methodology, which reasons that, for example, 100 new students during the coming school year will require three new school buses and two new vans for special-education and homeless students. In the new model of school bus transportation planning, the ques- tions are: “What is the best long-term plan for our district? What is our vision? What are the cost drivers, how are they changing, and what is our goal for the next five years?” ●


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