On March 18 Tyler’s own Kim Rentner will host an online Q&A with two student transportation industry veterans to talk about real-world solutions for keeping up with changing technology. Our guest speakers are:
- Barry Sudduth, Transportation Director at Stafford County Schools in Virginia and former NAPT President, with 19 years of experience in student transportation
- Nick Meyerrose, Transportation Coordinator at Brownsburg Community School Corporation in Indiana and board member of STAI, with 11 years of experience in student transportation
We spoke with Barry and Nick to get their thoughts on this topic before the upcoming live event, and you can preview some of their discussion below.
What changes have you seen in the student transportation industry?
Barry Sudduth: “I’ve seen GPS technology improve enormously in the last 5-6 years, going beyond showing just direction and speed to managing student attendance, timekeeping, even turn-by-turn directions with Tyler Drive. It’s exciting the ways things are going, it’s helping to make things safer for our drivers and students.”
Nick Meyerrose: “At my first district we were routing with pins and pegboard. After my first year we implemented Versatrans and made our routes more efficient.”
What technology change has had the biggest impact in the last few years?
Nick: “Parents know where buses are located with the parent app, and the office can tell what a driver did on their route with our GPS software. This past GPS information can help substitute bus drivers, because the office can print out the route exactly as it was driven the day before.”
Barry: “In the last ten years, the biggest impact is the improvements and upgrades in routing capabilities, and tying that together with the GPS. With the improvements we’re better able to gauge what our routes are doing. Are they making sense, are they as effective as they should be?”
Nick: “I agree, GPS has been a huge help and not just for routes but for bus data. Office staff receive an email alert for extreme harsh braking or extreme speeding incidents so we can manage those right away. Mechanics receive emails for check engine lights and buses that have a dead battery. It makes our morning startups much more efficient because the mechanics know what buses will not start, before the drivers come in and start their pre-trip inspections.”
How do you get your drivers to adopt new technology?
Barry: “It’s hard to make culture change. For example, we now have our drivers clock in and out using a card swipe tracked by our GPS. Our less experienced drivers will clock in daily and contact us if they miss a swipe. Where we have trouble is with our veteran drivers, getting them to change their habits. We’ll hear that ‘it doesn’t work’ so we go out on the bus and show them it does, in fact, work. And we look for the behavior to change. I tell you, if you say ‘We aren’t taking paper time sheets anymore,’ that will certainly make a change.”
Nick: “We have an advisory group made of drivers, aides, staff, and a mechanic. We keep it small, to under ten people on that group. We created this group three years ago and it really helps to get driver buy-in. We’re currently in the process of looking at the swipe cards for student tracking. At first, drivers were resistant to GPS and video cameras on the bus. They said ‘all you’ll do is track us and watch us.’ Now, drivers feel they have the support from the office because staff has all of the data at their fingertips to support the driver. The group was created to build that bridge from the office to the driver.”
Have parent expectations changed over time?
Nick: “The younger generation of parents grew up on cell phones. Everything is at their fingertips. The office knows immediately if a GPS unit is not functioning correctly or if we forget to mark a sub bus in the system because they will contact us. And every kid on the bus has a phone so we have to be completely transparent with our parents, because they’re going to know every issue right away.”
Barry: “Ten years ago, expectations were lower because the technology wasn’t even there. Now they expect on-time buses and notifications if the bus is going to be late. With the Versatrans My Stop app we do push notifications and that helps. I was talking to another director nearby and he said a member of his board asked, ‘Stafford has the parent app so they can see when the bus is coming, how come we don’t yet?’”
Join us for our live presentation where our panelists will also discuss where technology is going in the future, how to manage social media, and how to find technology vendors who stay with you for the long term. We hope to see you there!