When districts implement routing software, they’re looking to increase their level of service, to streamline processes for administration and teachers, to automate systems, or to find operational efficiencies. But the most important reason a school district invests in routing software is to address complex student needs and route students safely. If you’re looking at new technology for your district, consider purchasing routing software that contains these eight essential features.
1. Safety Rules Built Into the Map — Routing software must begin with the student’s needs in mind; otherwise, it’s as though you’re just routing a collection of bus stops. When safety rules are contained within a routing solution’s map, it prevents routers from having to micromanage each individual bus stop on every run. Take, for example, a stop that is currently a left-side pick-up, where the road has been deemed safe enough for students to cross. Just because a stop is serviced on the left-side today does not mean that rule will always be true. A student who needs a right-side pick-up could move into the neighborhood and the software must be able to recognize that. A router’s attention to detail should not be the only thing standing between a student and an unsafe assignment.
2. Automation (Not Simply Color-Coding) — While any routing solution should allow for some manual routing, it should be the exception, not the rule. For example, if a road is unsafe for students to walk along, the software should consider that every single time, whether there is one stop nearby or 1,000. Needing to rely on a router to avoid the green-colored streets every time is not only inefficient but can also lead to unsafe assignments.
3. Day and Week Variance — Students may need to be routed to different addresses on different days or different weeks. Your school’s policy may limit how often this happens but, as I’m sure you know, life is full of exceptions. A great routing solution can not only handle those exceptions, but also expect them. Similarly, if your special education or vocational program requires special routing, the software should let users adjust pick-up and drop-off locations depending on the day or the week. You shouldn’t have to create duplicate student records in order to do so.
4. Assigned School vs. School of Residence — Enrollment boundaries are an essential feature in routing software and they should hold true in most cases. However, make sure to consider a program’s flexibility for overriding the automatically assigned school. If special education or open enrollment dictate that a student needs to be routed outside of their standard school assignment, the software should allow it to be done simply.
5. Hardware and Software All-In-One — Routing software needs to be vendor-agnostic. It should work with virtually any system that can send or receive data in a flat file. Even better is when a single company can service your program’s multifaceted needs. If, for example, a feature of your GPS is not syncing up with your routing solution, and the software vendor and hardware vendor cannot agree on a solution, you end up in the middle with the problem unsolved. When both systems are provided by a one-stop shop, you only have to make one call for support.
6. An Updateable Map — It’s inevitable that roads change and neighborhoods expand. Quality routing software allows you to add new streets with simple, direct, point-and-click functionality. You should have full rights to edit existing streets, as well as the streets’ routing rules. And if a comprehensive map upgrade is necessary, the vendor should begin with your existing map (not a brand new one) so you don’t lose any customizations you’ve made.
7. “Change, But Add If New” Import Feature — This feature preserves changes a user makes to a student file in order to geocode and route them. If a student’s file in your student information student has a P.O. Box for an address, and you fix it in the software to route him to a street address, the nightly import should not overwrite the correct address with the P.O. Box and pull him off his run.
8. New Development — Technology advances rapidly. If a routing software vendor isn’t continuously improving their product as technology progresses, then they will soon become obsolete. You should ask any routing vendor to describe their development process: What features are they working on now? What new products are they developing? How many software releases do they make per year? Of the client suggestions they received last year, how many of those directly translated to software improvements? Ask these questions during a demo to find out if a vendor is going to stay ahead of the curve.
Looking at this list, it’s clear that a great routing solution is built around student needs and puts the student at the center of every feature. But the best routing solutions do even more: they house your local knowledge and talent, and act as a true reflection of your operation so that you can measure results and be transparent to the public. So when you’re next looking at transportation technology, remember to ask for the eight essential features above, and find out how they will evolve to meet future needs.