Orange County Public Schools has become a “pioneer” in the field of school bus GPS (Global Positioning System) applications. As one of the country’s largest district-owned fleets, we are often contacted by other districts throughout the United States to evaluate this innovative technology. Recognizing the increasing threats to homeland security, signs of the times, as well as the need to look for greater efficiencies in our routing, we realized the need to investigate ways to provide accurate, real-time information about the location of our buses at any given time Our district transportation staff wanted to pinpoint the exact location of our buses in the event of an emergency, and to monitor how well safety requirements were being followed by our drivers, such as stopping at railroad crossings and not traveling at excessive speeds. We also needed to obtain accurate route information and track historical data so we could improve our operations. The AVL/GPS solution seemed to be a technology that would assist us in achieving our safety and efficiency goals. It did not take long to realize that the system was designed to identify suboptimal routes and reduce labor costs by deploying drivers more efficiently and reducing dead-head times. The system uses radio transmission instead of cellular phones, so the district has been able to avoid huge monthly air time costs.
Initial installations on our school buses began in 2004, and were complete during the 2006 school year. These systems not only give our drivers an added sense of safety and security, the management personnel for our drivers have installed laptops with wireless internet cards with ink jet printers in each of their vehicles. There is also a two-way digital radio that allows them to connect to 911 services while in route. They can see and speak with the drivers, and be in route to their location, all at once. When the managers are in their cars, they are in their offices. Another safety measure that has been installed on our buses which adds to the security of our students and staff is the “panic” button that can send a message to the dispatch center when a driver is in a situation where they cannot make a traditional phone call. The manager can instantly locate the bus utilizing the GPS system, and will drive up next to the bus to determine what is happening, and make the appropriate call from there. Another added benefit of the system is cost savings (about 10% annually), which goes directly into our district’s classrooms. In addition to this, the non-quantifiable benefits of increased safety, security, and services are even greater when utilizing this system.
Bottom line: This system provides real-time location of our buses. In addition to an accurate snap-shot of daily operations, transportation staff now have real-world data they can use to analyze route mileage, speed, direction, stop status, emergency status, safety policy compliance, ridership trends, and vehicle and driver deployments. Routes are being scrutinized for greater efficiencies and labor costs are declining as drivers reduce idle and stop times. Most importantly is our response to the greatest responsibility of all, the safety and security of our district’s transported students, and being able to locate the school bus they are riding at a moment’s notice.