Tablet solutions for student transportation can help increase the level of safety and service you can provide to your community, but it can be difficult to understand how to tell one version of this new technology apart from the others. As a former Transportation Director, I know as well as anyone that there are many factors a you have to take into consideration when choosing a device—and a vendor. I wanted to take a moment to explain the most important questions to ask when researching the right tablet for your operation.

  1. What kind of device will be used? Can the driver do anything else on the device such as check their email or go on social media accounts? You will want to choose a device that does notallow the driver to use or interact with the device for anything other than their job duties.
  2. Can the driver interact with the device while the bus is in motion? The answer should be no. We all know the importance of driver focus and distracted driving laws. The vendor you choose should also know this and be able to provide a solution that is compliant. Make sure the device has a built-in feature that prevents drivers from interacting with the tablet while the vehicle is in motion.
  3. Will the navigation feature keep the integrity of a right-side-only stop? For drivers who need to rely on navigation, this question is critical for student safety. You’re not buying a commercial navigation unit that simply gets the driver from point A to point B the fastest way. You need a device that will direct your driver through multiple stops using the proper approach direction, as the run was designed in your routing software.
  4.  Where does the navigation feature get it’s information? You want your drivers to be able to get the information as though your dispatcher is talking in their ear—lefts and rights, but also helpful bits of information like landmarks, distance to next stop, student information, etc.—which means you need a device that speaks directly to your routing software.
  5. What map is used in the navigation feature? Is it the actual routing map on which you’ve planned the routes, or is it a separate overlay that may not line up the way it needs to for your driver’s success?
  6. Do you have the option to permanently mount the tablet or bring it in at night? Some districts want to leave the tablet docked. Others want drivers taking the tablets from a charging station inside. Decide your preference and ask the vendor.
  7. Do my drivers have to fumble with plugging it in? You need to know the actual process for docking the tablet into each bus.
  8. Is the device ruggedized for a school bus and tested in all weather conditions? School transportation requires resilient people. The tablet should be tough too!
  9. What other features does the tablet offer besides navigation? You probably have lots of hardware on your buses already. When you are researching tablets, find out if it can solve other business needs such as student tracking, GPS location, pre- and post-trip inspection checklists, or driver timekeeping.
  10. What can the tablet tell my driver about the students? If the tablet solution is capable, good student data can put more power in your drivers’ hands. Tablets should be able to tell the driver if someone is getting off at the wrong stop, getting on the wrong bus, or show student pictures and other important details.
  11. Can drivers skip stops ahead of time? Think about how often you need to split runs, or double up runs. Maybe you provide service for late runs. Then you need a device that can empower your driver and help them route on the fly during these situations.
  12. What kind of training does the vendor offer for your drivers, office staff, and mechanics? Your success can really depend on your team’s willingness to embrace new technology and feel comfortable and confident when using it. Your vendor should be prepared to offer an exemplary training program to help ensure your success.

An added benefit for purchasing new tablets is driver retention.  I recently saw an amazing webinar from NAPT that reframed this issue, posing whole new reasons we all have driver shortages. If you are a member, you can watch the February 2019 webinar called “Not Your Old School Driver Shortage.” (If you are not a member, click here to join.)

By helping drivers feel more confident about where they need to go and who they need to pick up we can respond to the driver shortage with this technology. Driving a school bus is a demanding job, and tablets can empower drivers by arming them with more information in a safer way.

If you would like to hear more about how this industry and technology are evolving, there are a few ways you can do that.

Leave your comments and questions below!

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