“My contract is based on the number of miles and the

number of hours every day. If I extrapolate that into dou- bles across the board, my contractor is going to say, well we need to renegotiate,” Damien explained. “Especially if we increase vehicles.” However, he noted that for smaller districts especially, a change in bell times could help to avert a lack of avail- able transportation. Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of transportation

software provider Transfinder, also explained how new bell times could be playing a role in COVID-19 respons- es. He noted that traditional bell times are adjusted by school buildings, and they run on a tired routing system. However, the bell-time changes he is hearing about this summer are completely different. As districts discuss hybrid models of education, he

added that he has noticed another challenge. There are decisions to be made about how to split the children up between days and/or hours. “We think the geographic aspect should also be con-

sidered at this point, for the splitting of the bell times,” Civitella explained. “Before, the whole school just shifted bell times, but this is a little different. We are talking about one school having two bell times. So, some fifth graders start at the normal time, the other fifth graders go in later, or they go in on a different day altogether.” He noted that in April, Transfinder released Routefind-

er PLUS, which is the next generation of the company’s routing software. He explained that the new software has automations and optimizations built-in based on data cli- ents have been entering into their systems over the years. “Now they can do multiple what-ifs because of our

algorithms,” Civitella said. “So of course, if you tell it to only transport one-sixth of your students on a bus, well, you may need up to six times as many vehicles. Or maybe not. Maybe you only need three times. But then at the end, you ask yourself, is it practical?” He added, “It’s about how our algorithms take what

our clients have put in, their local knowledge, their intu- itional knowledge about their area and their streets. … And our algorithms come back with realistic scenarios. So, that’s a big reality for us.”

Split Days/Weeks The execution of splitting children up by morn- ing and afternoon route remains unknown. Fifty-five percent of transportation directors and supervisors in a recent STN reader survey said they are considering transporting different grade levels of students on dif- ferent days or at different hours. Plus, 37 percent noted they were considering changing the bell times. How- ever, many readers STN reached out to for comment declined, citing that everything was still up in the air, as of early June. “The whole COVID-19 thing is interesting, it’s not any-

thing that anyone would have anticipated at all,” said Kerry Somerville, product manager for Seon, which is a part of the Safe Fleet brand. “If you look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [recommendations] for school busing, it’s almost crazy. Nobody could possible do that. We would have to triple the size of our [national] bus fleet.” For example, the CDC recommends seating one child per seat and skipping rows in between. The California Department of Education last month made a similar suggestion in its guidelines. Somerville said he is hearing ideas from school dis-

tricts that are all over the board, noting that no one really has a set-in stone idea for how to proceed. He said some districts he is working with are looking at year-round school, in addition to split days and hours. “It means some pretty serious rerouting problems,”

Somerville explained. “It’s everything from, I have to run two completely different routing systems, one for morn- ing kids, one for the afternoon kids. It might mean that I have two or three different routing scenarios based on the old year-round routing problem, where I have an A track and a B track, and they stagger those school times.” He noted that for both large and small school districts, this new school year is going to present challenges. He said Safe Fleet’s vMax Compass software was designed for larger school districts and helps to solve large routing challenges. “You can do unlimited what-if scenarios, which I think [transportation directors] are going to have to do,” Somerville noted. “I don’t think there is any choice. They are going to have to go to school boards and to the pub- lic with several different proposals. This is how we are going to approach this. So, having computerized soft- ware that will allow you to say, ‘OK, here are the schools

Is your transportation department discussing any of the following changes to services, due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

69% Transporting fewer students on routes

55% Transporting different grade levels on different days/hours

37% Changing bell times

25% Other (No discussion, waiting for guidance from state, increasing walking distances)

21% Transporting only special education students or a select group of students

11% Developing centralized transportation hubs

(Out of 346 responses to a recent STN reader survey. Total does not equal 100. Mutiple answers allowed.) 25

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