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Spokane, Washington, Adopts GIS in School Districts
School Bus Routing Goes High-Tech
What a difference a good route makes. While getting kids on and off a school bus has been a task undertaken by school districts across the nation for many years, it's only with the recent tech explosion that districts have thought about using powerful software packages and computer mapping for school bus routing.
One such agency, the Central Valley School District located near Spokane, Washington, is leading the way in how it routes students, manages transportation information, and carries out its day-to-day tasks, and all at a fraction of the time and cost of previous methods.
Above right: SMARTR for Schools assigns students to bus stops based on eligibility and walking distance to the nearest bus stop.
"Central Valley School District has done an amazing job," says Kerry J. Somerville, chief executive officer, Education Planning Solutions (EPS)the Esri Business Partner that provided Central Valley School District with their GIS solution. "They've optimized their bus routing to save thousands of dollars. While Central Valley School District is one of the larger school districts in eastern Washington using GIS for bus routing, more and more school districts of all sizes are doing similar work and it's improving how they operate."
The Central Valley Transportation Department has for decades generated school routes using paper maps, pushpins, plastic transparencies, and colored pens. Addresses for every Central Valley student had to be located on a paper map and marked by hand. Using best judgment, transportation professionals then grouped the closest students, marked pickup points, and created the more than 250 runs for students in the Central Valley School District. But that was then.
Today the company is using a customized solution known as SMARTR for Schools Transportation Module, a powerful stand-alone software system from EPS. The system comprises ArcView GIS, ArcView Network Analyst, and a bus manager database to more effectively manage transportation systems.
"In the past, all of our routers had to look at a map and try to figure out the best routes," says Debra Holmes, Transportation Supervisor, Central Valley School District. "Now, using the software, we can quickly create routes that are more accurately based on distance and provide the best driver routes. We can see all of the information when we need it."
What once involved combing through paper maps and map books and a virtual busload of informationor worse, involved manual field data collectionis now just a few mouse clicks away. For instance, in the past, if a parent called and wanted to know the distance between their house and the nearest bus stop, a transportation official would often have to jump into a car, drive to the area, and manually calculate the distance. This was a timely process. Today, that process is automated and streamlined. Now a user simply types in an address, clicks a computer screen icon, and displays a map with the closest bus stop marked. With a click of a button, the distance pops up on a screen.
Above right: Reporting student information along with routes can be displayed in a few seconds.
Central Valley School District's success is stunning. After using SMARTR for Schools, the school district realized a full week's reduction in the time it took to create the state reports. In addition to this, 5-6 routes could be eliminated with enforcement of school district walking policy realizing an additional $125,000 in savings. Routes would be optimized and only students who lived outside the walk zone would be transported. The only exceptions to this rule are students who live in areas designated as hazardous for walking, such as areas under construction or areas with heavy traffic.
The company that designed SMARTR for Schools provides multiple planning solutions to aid in education including software that aids in planning for the present as well as the future. Based in Florence, Montana, EPS provides software modules for student grade and census planning facilities, planning by geographic information, and student GPA planning.
"Our goal at EPS is to provide software that has not been available before," says Somerville. "We understand the busy schedules and tight budgets of school officials and that time and money are commodities not to be wasted. We've designed SMARTR for Schools using ArcView GIS and ArcView Network Analyst because we knew GIS provided the right type of analysis school districts need."
Central Valley School District uses SMARTR for Schools for a number of key applications. Along with route optimization, the school district can use the software for managing student and bus driver information, special education bussing management, driving directions, and bus accounting. For example, some school districts pay parents to drive their children to school. The software helps the school district keep track of those transactions.
Above left: Bus stops with routes can be shown along with pictures of students getting on at each stop.
In addition, the software provides an accident-tracking module so a user can more easily assess if there is a dangerous stretch of road along a school bus route. The software can also be used for fleet inventory, where the number of buses, equipment, engines, and other equipment data can also be maintained and analyzed.
The success of Central Valley and others has resulted in more than 50 districts across the country using the software, and the high-tech boom in school districts is ever expanding.
For example, school districts use GIS to geocode their student databases and ask questions such as What are the locations of students with the highest grade point averages? and Why?
"We use ArcView GIS as our GIS engine to look at a number of variables," says Somerville. "For example, we'll use GIS to see if there is a relationship between test scores and kids getting a meal at school versus kids who do not. GIS gives us a powerful technology to automate and integrate all data related to students and to use query capabilities to look at problems in a new way."