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“The reality of it is that even as we’re pay-


ing all our employees, we’re not spending $20,000 on fuel every week. We have money to paint a couple buses and replace a swamp cooler on the roof of one bus,” shared Tom Carrol, director of transportation at the San Juan Unified District in California. “A couple buses were waiting for engines. We didn’t have the money, but now we do, and the staff is freed up so they can build the engines. All those projects need to get done. We can just afford to do them a little sooner now.” Carroll, Hatfield and other transportation


directors at school districts nationwide said their staffs have exemplified the highest val- ues of public service during the pandemic. For instance, Carroll’s mechanics have been working four days a week on such projects as reupholstering driver seats, handling body and paint work, and recharg- ing air conditioning systems, even as many district employees have been off work with pay. The department’s trainers have rewrit- ten curriculum and updated presentation materials while operations staff, routers and dispatchers have been able to update their skills with online training and the addition of new dispatching equipment. Meanwhile, Hatfield’s mechanics were


“getting caught up on the doing the body work and fixing the scrapes and scuffs that you live with until you can’t live with them anymore and have to take that bus out of service.” “The school year has become like a Mc-


Donald’s 24-hour drive-through. We used to have some down time in the summer, but now we never close,” she continued. “We’ve been able to take this time to rotate our shifts so they can spend time in the shop but this has also given them some huge chunks of time to be at home, be on the computer and take some training courses.” She relayed that one of the school dis-


trict’s first responses was to make sure all the students and teaching staff had access to Chromebooks before other staff. But now that the transportation department has the technology, staff are using it to remain sharp. “So, we started checking out Chrome-


books for drivers and bus assistants,” she explained. “There are quite a few resources for school bus driver training online, and our state manuals are integrated online through Google Drive. We’ve been putting


28 School Transportation News • JUNE 2020


them to good use.” Carroll and his team have also taken time


76% of readers


say they are utilizing


school closures to work on their fleets. (Out of 348


responses to a recent STN survey.)


to work with some state agencies and the local air quality district to research planned investments in electric buses. “We don’t want to buy yesterday’s tech-


nology. We want tomorrow’s technology,” he said. “It’s really given us time to dig into it to, see that we have the appropriate infrastructure and have all the cutting-edge technology.” He’s been spending more time on the


phone with vendors each day, too, as he re- searches various solutions and explores how to achieve the best value for taxpayers. “We’re mindful of the public’s dollar and


doing a good job for them,” Carroll said. “That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.”


What work is your staff performing on your fleet?


97%


School bus Maintenance


89%


Cleaning/ sanitizing


64%


Inspections 15%


Installing new technology/


safety features 8%


Other


(Delivering meals,


white fleet


maintenance) (Out of 261


responses. Mutiple answers allowed. Total does not equal 100.)


Staying Connected Speaking of saving money, technolo- gy can play a big role in ensuring school districts and bus companies remain up and running during closures. It’s just as important for fleet managers to make sure the vehicles remain in top shape, in antici- pation of when student service returns. A tool to help them do just that is re-


ferred to as “connected technology.” It has been much the rage over the last several school years. But what exactly does the term mean? “Connected fleet, from our frame of


reference, is the collection of data from a fleet of school buses, which is then used to better manage the function of transporting students safely and efficiently,” comment- ed John Barrington, director of product planning for Blue Bird Corporation. “This data could be information related to the vehicle’s mechanical health as well as information regarding the safety and security of the vehicle’s operation and its passengers.”


Fleet managers can accurately gauge the


ongoing health of their vehicles by draw- ing upon vehicle diagnostic information to reduce downtime and provide improved planning of maintenance needs. In other words, new technology predicts issues that student transporters are likely to see, regardless if the school buses are actively running routes, or not. The data gleaned from various solutions is key to saving student transporters mon-


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