School Bus Fleet

September 2014

A management & maintenance magazine for school transportation fleets

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40 S C H O O L B U S F L E E T • S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 4 students. If anything, starting many programs later eliminated the hard- ship of one parent having to arrive home mid-afternoon more than it cre- ated a hardship for a fellow parent having to arrive to work a bit later. In simple terms, school hours are usually earlier than work hours in the a.m. period, and signifcantly earlier in the p.m. period. So in the majority of cases, our approach brought these two schedules closer together. By far, the most essential point of this experience was that it illustrates the enormous magnitude of cost savings possible by making a single change. A 10% cost savings from a single change — one that included adding 16% more passengers — may not be possible in a public school environment where the extremes of a few schools' start and end times are more limited. And, of course, existing spatial re- lationships may not make such gains possible. But even if not, we are talk- ing about a degree of cost savings that dwarfs anything else a school district can possibly do outside of making radical increases in walking distances, eliminating general-edu- cation services altogether, or "mode- splitting" high school (and often ju- nior high school) students to transit where it is available. I am not claiming that other things should not be done. Instead, I am claiming that optimizing the spatial and temporal relationships of one's service area is where the big cost savings come from, and that this process should be exhausted long before endless time is spent doing anything else. Knowledge and aptitude Not everyone possesses the same aptitude for this exercise that I do. And few have had a career with the luck mine brought me — including examining 30 paratransit systems while directing the U.S. Department of Transportation's frst nationwide examination of them and, in the pro- cess, fguring out the factors that gov- ern system effciency. from the inception of our involvement in the program, we practically begged them to put the remaining program "out to bid." Finally, they did. The incumbent provider's costs were openly announced as $38,000 a month (or about $456,000 a year — at a time when I believe our total budget for a bit more than fve times as many stu- dents traveling to about 30 programs literally all over the place was roughly $5 million). Knowing what integrating this f- nal program into our overall service area could achieve, we bid zero. That's right, zero. But with an asterisk. This asterisk was of little concern to some- one like myself with an understanding of time and space. Yet how did I know we could absorb 16% more passengers at no additional cost? The asterisk: setting start times Working with a huge map of this ser- vice area covered with dots for all 950 passengers (including the new ones) color-coded to larger dots representing the destinations, and with a handful of grease crayons, I simply re-routed the entire system. Particularly with the new program located where it was, and the fact that so many of our existing vehicles passed close to it on their way to the programs we were already serving, I found that I could transport the entire 950 students in the same number of ve- hicle service hours. The cost of the few additional vehicles would be covered by the profts from the 16% more pas- sengers we hauled. How was I able to do this? The an- swer is the asterisk: We simply de- manded the right to set the start times of all the programs. That's all. We would not change the duration of a sin- gle program, thus requiring no institu- tional changes whatsoever. Instead, our changes merely affected various degrees of convenience and inconve- nience (and sometimes merely prefer- ences) to school and workshop person- nel, our passengers, their parents and guardians, and, of course, our drivers and management. It should be noted that we changed a few of these programs' start times somewhat radically — more than a typical public school system could like- ly do, as a practical matter — because we transported solely adults and in- fants. So, a few of our programs were instructed to begin as early as 7 a.m., and one small program as late as 9:45 a.m., although most of the late ones began no later than 9 a.m. Many pro- grams' start and end times were not changed at all. Most of the other chang- es were not very signifcant. These changes caused their fair share of major to minor inconvenience, and drew their share of whiners. But our lead agency informed the whiners that money does not grow on trees and gave them a vision of the many things that could be done with the extra $500,000 a year our changes made available. Scores of our passengers (as well as the lives of many people we did not transport) obtained signifcant ben- efts, including more staff, salary in- creases and many other things that were clearly out of reach without these savings. Applicability to pupil transportation The goals of the approach noted here were and are no different from the goals of any school serving K-12 Our lead agency informed the whiners that money does not grow on trees and gave them a vision of the many things that could be done with the extra $500,000 a year our changes made available.

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