Author: Ryan Smithson
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Student transportation is changing. If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware. One of those changes is a higher demand for, and the increasingly complex nature of, Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) for any given student. Not everything in an IEP plan affects transportation, of course, but when it does, it can drastically affect your routing plan. I talk to transportation professionals all day long, and, while each operation is unique, one of the consistencies across the industry is that capturing the nuance of student transportation in routing software is an ever-evolving challenge.
Based on these needs, I’ve put together a quick list of seven features to check for in your current program or to consider when shopping routing software.
1) Equipment – It’s not just wheelchairs and safety vests anymore. It’s air conditioning. It’s one-on-one aides. It’s booster seats, and tinted windows, and dust control, and bumper guards for chewing. You should be able to store all of these in the vehicle files, student files, and use them for routing. The fields should be customizable and, most importantly, they should automate and warn you of conflicts.
2) Reducing human error – Software should be a place to house your local knowledge and talent. Look for software that can reflect everything you do for your students. Color-coding and map icons are great, that shouldn’t be the only thing standing between a student and an unsafe assignment. If Excel didn’t calculate numbers automatically and I still needed a calculator, why would I buy it? If student safety isn’t accounted for on the map (e.g. walk/cross restrictions) or through global rules (e.g. SPED students need a right-side pickup at their door), then how is it accounted for? Student needs shouldn’t have to be micromanaged through bus stop rules and a router’s attention to detail. You route students, after all, not bus stops.
3) Specialized stop times – One student needs a later pickup because she takes medication in the morning, and another has to stay afterschool for a special program. These IEP needs are often unavoidable, so your software should be flexible enough to account for it. Can you add extra sit time for your driver, ad hoc, at a school? Can you add extra load time for a particular student, or a set of students, or for a piece of equipment like a wheelchair? Does that load time follow the student wherever you stop for them, or is it just manual at the bus stop? Can you have students with certain needs leave earlier or later than the regular bell time? The software should think the way you do, and always with the ability to override those rules when needed.
4) Flexibility – Students can all have different needs, no matter what program they might be in. For example, many students need to ride to different schools or different addresses on different days or weeks. If you have to create duplicate student records to “trick” the software into complying with these nuances, that’s less than ideal. Think of how that affects reporting, especially state reporting. Routing software should reflect reality, including day/week variance for your students and on driver sheets.
5) What-if scenarios – This is one of the biggest requests I get. Let’s say I want a sandbox to play around in, so I can move students from their normal bus stops, switch around bell times, or anything else to see how this changes my plans. I shouldn’t have to create extra databases in order to avoid messing with my current routing operation. Likewise, I shouldn’t have to separate out my SPED students in order to route them. All students should exist in the same database, and the software should be flexible enough to run what-if scenarios for any subset that doesn’t affect my current operation.
6) Routing out of boundary – There aren’t many one-room schoolhouses these days. Especially when it comes to students with special needs, they may not attend the school in the default enrollment boundary. The big question here is: when I do change a student’s school from the norm, will the program protect that change? Or will it overwrite when I import the student file again? It sure shouldn’t.
7) Shuttles and transfers – This is another huge request that often stems from IEP plans. Some students need to shuttle over, mid-day, to another school building for a special learning program. Maybe they need a shuttle back, or maybe they need a ride home from the secondary school, or maybe they need to transfer at a location, back onto their default run. Either way, the software should not only track these complex scenarios; it should automate them.
If your current software can handle these nuances, then you’re in a perfect position to adapt to these ever-evolving requests, to maintain your on-time performance, and to meet the demanding needs of the public you serve. If it can’t, then Tyler would love the chance to speak with you and demonstrate these capabilities, and much more. Please leave your comments and questions below and visit our website to learn more about our solutions!