For Efficiency, Data is Everything

May 29, 2019 by Ryan Smithson

For Efficiency, Data is Everything

Imagine you're trying to find a better method for cleaning your house, so it takes, say, three hours instead of four, and costs you $20 per cleaning instead of $60. You could just go buy the cheapest cleaning solutions. You could tie paper towels to your dog's feet and throw a ball around the house. You could buy a robot to clean for you. But none of those solutions will be both effective and economical. So where do you start?

One word: data. In order to come up with the leanest, meanest cleaning plan, you'd have to know things like square footage, number of rooms, average time of a single broom sweep, and average cost per spray of Windex. Only after you understand all the metrics can you develop a plan that will save both time and money.

Of course I'm not talking about your Saturday cleaning schedule; I'm talking about school transportation. But the philosophy is the same: get the data. On a recent webinar panel, three transportation directors from across the country shared valuable advice for finding efficiencies and reinvesting those saved dollars back into your district. They all had different plans, but their method came down to a single common denominator of targeting the right data in the right form, quickly and easily.

Step 1) Get the numbers

Knowing cost per mile is okay, but a superintendent wants percentages, says Joe Dives from Magnolia ISD, TX. They want the 10,000-foot view of the operation. What percentage of costs are fuel? What's the total walking and driving distance for students at a particular school? How does the geography of an area translate to transportation deadhead dollars? Getting this data can be a time-consuming process without the right tools at your fingertips.

Step 2) Make the plan

 Joe has the right tools — Versatrans Routing & Planning — and was able to figure out that, in one geographically rural area, he could combine grades 7-12 on the same set of runs and then transfer off certain students to save the extra mileage on the transfer bus.

By analyzing the data in Versatrans, Jason Nelson at Kyrene School District, AZ was able to find efficiencies by analyzing deadhead time, which is created automatically by the software. By splitting up his boundaries into reportable quadrants, he was able to discover where his runs had unnecessary detours. By reworking and confining them to those quadrants, he was able to find many efficiencies.

Tim Shannon at Twin Rivers USD, CA found efficiencies by analyzing deadhead, too, including through a bell time study that allowed him to tier routes and reduce his buses from 300 to 190 and even eliminate a bus yard.

Step 3) Increase the service

 When it comes to school transportation, it's not just time and mileage. There's a third ingredient: service. You cannot compromise student safety or customer service simply for the sake of being more efficient. However, as Tim from Twin Rivers points out, when you're more efficient, it can actually increase your level of service. By minimizing drive time on routes, for example, kids don't have to be out the door as early or stay on the bus as long. If your software can track and automate around cross street or walk hazards, then safety doesn't have to rely on a router's attention to detail. And as Jason from Kyrene pointed out, routing data can provide insights by showing the planned clock-in/out times for drivers rather than a flat hourly rate for each day.

Step 4) Innovate

 Tim Shannon was able to use demographic data from Versatrans Routing & Planning to figure out what routes/buses were servicing disadvantaged students. With this information, he was able to win a substantial grant for electric buses. Not only did he have to use the data to determine eligibility for the grant, but he used the route mileage to prove his buses could stay within the 100-mile range for electric engines. The return on investment has been substantial: electric buses cost about 16 cents per mile (compared to 82 cents for diesel), and they require 60% less maintenance, often going up to 10,000 miles before needing service. Tim even receives carbon credits, which is direct money that he can reinvest back into his operation. He also works with local utilities to sell back residual power during peak times and re-charge the buses during off peak times. It's a classic "buy low, sell high" technique that, he says, makes fuel costs nearly nonexistent.

Tim has the largest electric fleet in the country now, and is on the cutting edge of both technology and renewable energy simply because he had the data needed (and the smarts to use it) to show eligibility and a plan for using grant money. There are so many more examples we could talk about, so if any of this is important or interesting to you, please watch this webinar on Finding Needed Dollars by Reducing Operating Costs.

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