It’s a scene we see every year: around the time when budgets start getting analyzed and allocated, superintendents and finance directors across the country look at all those commas separating the numbers for the transportation budget. Their eyes go wide, and they ask the inevitable question, never meant as an insult: “How much of this is necessary?”

The answer, of course, is all of it. Right? We necessarily need students to be transported to school on time and safely. But, wow, look at all those zeros! What can you do? You probably feel like you’re doing everything you can already. But maybe we can wring out this transportation towel just a little bit?

That was the challenge proposed to Andy J. Martin in 2011 at School District U-46, Elgin, IL. Andy retired from U-46 in 2017 after 30 years with the district, and this is only one of his many stories of transportation challenges overcome. Without sacrificing any level of service, he was asked to cut five percent, or about $1.5 million from his existing budget. His creative solution—which actually increased the level of service to the public—saw a $647,000 in average annual savings and has since served as a model in an effort to assist other school districts. This month, we break down exactly how he accomplished this, so maybe you can consider adopting a similar model for your operation.

The Challenge

  • 27,000 students need to be brought to and from school every day: six high schools, eight middle schools, and 41 elementary schools
  • Five percent non-negotiable budget cut
  • No bell time changes, program changes, or attendance boundary changes can occur
  • The only way to find efficiency (reduce buses, miles, fuel, etc.) was to create an additional tier within a limited time frame

The Solution

  • The highest number of transported students were high schoolers, so that’s where Andy and his team started to look for and uncover previously unidentified efficiencies
  • Andy realized he had elementary and middle school buildings throughout the various communities, each with their own walk boundaries
  • He decided to see what it would look like to use those building locations as bus stops for the high schoolers, thus reducing the amount of high school bus stops throughout the communities
  • The assistant director of transportation (Amy Cook, now an Implementation Consultant with Tyler Technologies) added to this consolidation by recommending local parks and other “green spaces” where students from surrounding neighborhoods could wait safely in mass

The Steps

  • Using Tyler’s routing software, the transportation administrative team quickly identified which high schoolers fell into those walk boundaries, complete with a reportable list of all affected students
  • They created additional bus stop boundaries in those “green spaces” where it would be safe for many students to gather and wait
  • The key here was the routing software’s ability to encode hazard areas and street restrictions into the map to make sure students wouldn’t be assigned to cross or walk along unsafe streets, or be exposed to hazardous conditions
  • Without changing the school’s bell times, the transportation administrative team also discovered they could widen the allowable drop-off window at the high schools by 20 minutes and create a second tier of high school runs, which wouldn’t have been possible without the mileage savings and reduced route time found through the school/neighborhood stop method
  • Another key factor was how Andy rolled it out to the public — by earning their buy-in through transparency. He explained and demonstrated that high school students wouldn’t be asked to walk any farther than the students already attending those elementary and middle schools, which could be up to 1.5 miles in most cases
  • In an effort to maximize transparency, the administrative team assigned additional transportation professionals to go out into the communities to verify and confirm distances with walking wheels, showing that safety and accuracy was of utmost importance

The Savings

  • Reduced fleet by 15 buses
  • Responded to an existing driver shortage by reducing 21 driver positions
  • Reduced hours needed for routing staff
  • Reduced fuel by 249 gallons per day
  • Reduced fleet maintenance costs by $12,000 per year
  • Total savings: $647,000

The Other Benefits

  • Maintenance savings resulted in a reduction of no starts and breakdowns
  • Reduced mileage resulted with less delays from construction and traffic
  • Reduced stop changes, as many parents no longer requested a different level of service for their student
  • Safer bus stop areas, with police presence at bus stops, timely snow removal, and buses waiting for students instead of students waiting for buses in the early mornings and in bad weather
  • Having multiple buses in one place helped response time to breakdowns and driver call outs
  • Multiple buses working together in the same location also increased driver morale through informal team building

The goal of $1.5 million savings was accomplished within the first 2.5 years. The annual $647,000 savings continues annually to this day.

By thinking differently about how bus stops could work in his community, and by having routing software that handled and responded to the complex nuances and scenarios of the new method, Andy and the team were able to shift the tiers, double up where possible, and reduce overhead for the operation. If you’re challenged with something similar, instead of viewing the challenge as an impossible problem that “can’t” be solved, try thinking outside of the box regarding how you get students to and from school. And if you need software that can handle cost analysis, bell time studies, redistricting, and custom reporting, contact Tyler today!

This post would not be possible without the experience and generosity of Andy J. Martin, who has 37 years’ experience in the pre-K to 12 transportation industry.

One thought on “True Story: Saving $1.5 Million with Creative Routing

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