A Guide to Smart School Bus Fleet Management

Millions of children across the country ride school buses every day. Their parents trust the drivers and school district to keep them safe. Bus fleet owners, operators, and contractors are responsible for getting kids to school on time without any incidents.

The easiest way for parents, drivers, fleet owners, operators, and school districts to keep track of bus movements and student activity is to use a K-12 school bus fleet telematics solution.

A platform like this has features to enable real-time bus tracking, notifications of students boarding and departing the bus, easy driver time and attendance, and safety inspections.

In this article, we delve into K-12 school bus fleet management systems, how they work, and the essential features of effective fleet management software.

What is school bus fleet management?

K-12 school bus fleet management enables fleet operators and owners to monitor and manage their fleet using software instead of endless phone calls and manual excel sheets.

Typically, school bus fleet solutions have a tablet installed on each bus. These tablets send real-time location and data insights to operators. Operators can use this data to plan better routes, manage driver substitutions, and ensure on-time departures and pickups.

Advanced school bus fleet management software also supports student ridership options. Children carry cards with RFID chips that are scanned when they board or leave a bus, so operators, schools, and parents know exactly where the children are. Operators can also use barcode scanners to log ridership activities.

Some providers provide a specially designed application for parents that sends alerts when the bus is close to their child’s stop, so they can get their kids ready on time. They also get real-time alerts on when their child boards or departs the bus so they can act immediately if their child ever gets off at the wrong stop.

These are just some of the use cases of an efficient K-12 telematics solution available through CalAmp, which also boasts many other valuable features that make the lives of bus owners, operators, and parents easier.

5 reasons why K-12 school bus fleet management systems are important

Every school, parent, and bus owner can benefit from K-12 telematics.

Importance of k-12 school bus fleet management

Let’s take a closer look at the five most significant advantages.

1. Improve student safety

Keeping students safe on their way to school and back is extremely important for schools and parents. Without software, all they can do is get children to board the right bus and hope for the best.

Even a simple bus substitution can cause delays, leaving parents concerned about where their kids are. That’s not how it should be. Parents and schools need end-to-end visibility of where each child is so they never have to worry.

A good school bus fleet management software like that offered by CalAmp triggers instant alerts to parents when the bus is close to their child’s stop. It’s also easy for school bus operators to communicate with parents.

Add in the Student Ridership module, and every operator and parent can see where a child got on and departed the bus. This also protects the drivers as they can stop children from getting off at the wrong stop.

2. Optimize fleet payroll systems

School bus fleet management goes beyond GPS tracking. It can help owners and school districts see how drivers perform and streamline the payroll system.

Using the tablet on the bus, drivers can clock in and out effortlessly via the Time and Attendance tool. This information is automatically sent to the operators.

Tracking time like this improves many backend processes and improves driver accountability. For example, operators can use collective data to see approximately how long a route is supposed to take. A driver that exceeds this time by a large margin can be reprimanded or reassigned.

Payroll is also simplified since operators know exactly how long each driver has worked, without the driver having to come into the office to manually clock in or out. The CalAmp Application for K-12 fleet management integrates with most fleet payroll systems, allowing you to streamline your payroll processes.

3. Streamline route management

Managers can collect and capitalize on critical data to improve operations with end-to-end visibility of their buses and routes. Route management is a crucial part of this.

Every school bus has a specific route with predetermined stops. Operators can monitor each bus to:

  • Identify and quickly act on any deviations
  • Provide immediate assistance when needed
  • Optimize bus routes using data

Without software, bus substitutions are a complicated and hectic process since one route often covers multiple areas.

CalAmp boasts various integration partners for route management, including BusPlanner, TripSpark, TransFinder, and more. More integrations mean smoother implementation for operators, who can customize their systems to get the data they need.

Efficient route management ensures every student gets to school on time and is safe on their journey.

4. Improve driver retention

One of the biggest challenges that operators and schools currently face is the school bus driver shortage. While school districts are offering higher payments and better incentives to combat the nationwide problem, making the driver's job easier is another way to do so.

A fleet solution that helps dispatchers and drivers work together can create a collaborative environment that benefits the drivers.

For example, efficient routes mean less time on the road, reducing stress and strain. Since the software stores their work hours, drivers don’t need to worry about being underpaid. If they need a day off, dispatchers can reassign buses to other drivers in a few clicks.

Drivers have the added safety of student ridership, so they can prevent children from exiting at the wrong stop. These improvements build trust between the school district, drivers and parents, so they can get their job done without frustrating stressors affecting their daily schedules.

5. Save time and money

School districts have tight budgets. They don’t have the luxury of hiring multiple buses for every route. So, they need a fleet telematics solution to help them make the most of their current buses and bus routes.

Operators can create the best schedules for their existing vehicles, make changes on the go, and provide assistance immediately.

Fleet systems that offer pre and post-trip inspections improve reporting capabilities, so managers and owners can schedule maintenance ahead of time and plan accordingly.

The same applies to comparative analysis, where operators can compare their planned routes to actual routes to identify patterns, fix issues, and improve future routes.

Eliminating redundancies within the fleet, such as obsolete systems or extra vehicles, can also save money.

8 essential features of a school bus fleet management system

The K-12 school bus fleet management system you choose must have the following features.

 8 key features of k-12 fleet management

Let’s take a look at each of these features.

1. Real-time GPS tracking

GPS tracking is vital for school bus fleet management. Schools and fleet operators know every bus location in real time, improving visibility and quickly making data-driven decisions.

Parents benefit from the app since they get notification alerts when the bus is close to their child’s designated pickup and drop spot. With student ridership, they can also see when their kids board and depart the bus.

Dispatchers and school admins can also access this information, ensuring that buses are on time and students are safe.

2. Simple UI

A complicated website and app are pointless for school bus dispatchers who already have various duties on their plate. Parents will also be frustrated with a complex app that requires them to go through multiple steps to view information about their children.

This is why the school bus fleet management solution you pick must be intuitive, user-friendly, and easy to navigate. Fleet operators, school admins, and parents should be able to track buses and the students using them effortlessly.

Operators that are hindered by complex apps will lead to delayed or uninformed decision-making that could cost school districts thousands of dollars.

3. Comparative analysis

Your K-12 fleet telematics system should allow operators to track how routes are actually completed to how they were initially planned.

Collecting and analyzing this data is crucial for improved fleet management. Managers can identify routes, driving, and traffic patterns to boost productivity.

For example, if a particular route repeatedly exceeds expected timelines, managers can talk to drivers to understand why these delays occur.

If it’s because some students are late for their pickup, dispatchers can communicate with parents, or if it’s due to traffic constraints, managers should either start the route earlier or avoid specific streets. If the delays are caused by poor driving, the driver(s) can be sent for more training or reassigned to simpler routes.

Seemingly minor decisions like this can significantly improve fleet efficiency.

4. Fleet payroll enhancements

Apart from tracking, your K-12 fleet management software should ease backend processes. This includes payroll.

In a manual payroll system, drivers either self-report their timings at the office after their work is done or admins record them themselves. This unreliable system requires hours of manual calculations that are prone to human error.

With CalAmp’s K-12 fleet management solution, school officials and drivers have an easier system to report and track attendance. Drivers don’t have to manually keep track of their work hours, they just need to clock in and out on a tablet on the bus and it’ll monitor the rest for them.

This information is collected and organized adequately so payroll staff can automate their tasks. It also increases driver accountability by monitoring how long they take to complete routes.

5. Real-time boarding and departure updates

Student safety is a top priority for any school, and a student ridership initiative ensures children are safe on their way to and from school.

CalAmp’s student ridership feature uses RFID cards that track when a child enters or leaves a bus when the card is scanned. Parents receive alerts when this happens, and it’s logged into the software.

Student ridership RFID cards on CalAmp

The cards can also be used to show the requirements of Special Needs children so that schools can cater to them. Drivers get immediate alerts when a child exits at the wrong stop so they can stop them from doing so.

RFID cards offer real-time boarding and departure updates, but they typically cost more to implement. If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to log student ridership activities, we also offer barcode scanners.

Student ridership data for operators can help them see how the buses are utilized. They can collect data on students that regularly miss their stops or get off or on at the wrong ones. This information can be sent to a parent if an incident occurs with their child.

They can also use ridership data to consolidate nearby stops, determine if they’re using suitable bus sizes, and improve their planning.

6. Fleet diagnostics

Like student ridership, operators can collect information about the buses and driver behavior.

These metrics help them optimize fleet performance via effective decision-making. For example, seeing which vehicles need maintenance or are obsolete helps operators send replacement or repair requests to the school district, with data backing them up.

Operators can also monitor driver behavior and get to the bottom of driver-related incidents, such as harsh driving or delays. This helps them implement a fleet safety program and coach drivers to be safe on the road.

7. Pre and post trip inspection

Since school buses are used almost daily, keeping them working correctly and avoiding downtime is a big task. Operators and school districts can use software to log inspection reports and maintenance records.

When a bus breaks down, it must spend hours or days sidelined at the mechanics. This downtime can be costly for school districts and bus owners that have to rearrange pickup and drop-offs while also paying for repairs.

Consistent logs and data collection enable bus fleets to follow preemptive maintenance schedules rather than risk losing buses to major mechanical issues.

Automating logs for inspections and maintenance extends the lifecycle of fleet vehicles. It also frees admins and operators to focus on more critical tasks such as route planning or student safety.

8. Integrations

A standalone school bus fleet management tool is just another app on a dispatcher or admin’s long list of programs related to students. It adds another data source that complicates data management and negates the point of the system.

Your school bus management system must integrate with existing tools so operators can get everything done from a single platform. CalAmp’s K-12 fleet management solution enables multiple integrations eliminating scattered data sets and encouraging unified data management.

When an operator has to make decisions, especially in time-sensitive situations, it’s easier to look at all the data on one app rather than wasting precious minutes browsing multiple data sets, some of which might not even match.

Conclusion

A K-12 school bus fleet management solution is the best way for schools, operators, and parents to keep track of a student’s journey to and from school. It helps parents plan to get their kids to the bus stop on time, and enables operators to plan punctual bus arrivals and departures.

Any delays or route changes can be tracked and addressed instantly, reducing stress for both operators and concerned parents. Two-way communication between dispatchers and parents makes resolving issues easier.

If you want the best school bus management system with industry-leading student safety features, then the CalAmp Application for K-12 fleet management is the way to go. You can request a demo today to learn how our system can help you just as it has helped hundreds of customers.

Recent Related Stories

Using Modbus in Industrial Telematics
What is Modbus? The Modbus communications protocol is the granddaddy of the networking industry and is still the only open-source…
Read More
Why Half of School Transportation Officials Want Improved Driver Training and Monitoring
In a September 2023 survey by School Bus Fleet, school transportation officials reported the number one safety measure needed for…
Read More
OBD2 Codes Explained: A Complete Guide
If you manage a fleet of pickup trucks or light-duty vehicles, you've likely heard the term "OBD-II codes." Don't worry,…
Read More