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Transportation Software Helps District Absorb Budget Cuts

Michigan district optimizes bus routes and cuts $160,000 in replacement costs with Versatrans

The Lakewood Public School district near Lansing, MI, was coping with transportation cuts and struggling with a cumbersome routing system based on outdated technology, so Transportation Director Greg Tobias started talking to other districts about what software they were using to manage bus routing.

The Versatrans Transportation Management Solution, a suite of products from Tyler Technologies, seemed to be the most popular. "One of the things that really jumped out at us was the tech support," Tobias said. "The people at Versatrans were very available, easy to work with and the program was very easy to set up and use."

Ease of use was important to the district, which covers 235 rural square miles, busing 1,600 of its 2,200 students on 18 regular buses and three special ed buses.

"This tool helps to make us more efficient and deal with budget cuts as we optimize routes while downsizing the fleet."

Versatrans has put the bus routing information into the hands of each of the district's six school assistants who can easily access student and routing information. When new trips are requested, such as the 500 field trips and athletic team travel, an assistant at each school is able to enter the trip into Versatrans' Triptracker. The system then moves the request through approval and into bidding by drivers and sets up the trip and routing.

The district had been on a three bus per year purchasing rotation, but a $160,000 annual budget cut eliminated the replacement rotation and reduced available staff time. With fewer buses and a smaller staff, Tobias needed a way to be more efficient, to keep students safe and eliminate the lengthy 90-minute long bus rides that were becoming the norm.

The answer seemed to lie with double-tiered routes, with buses picking up and dropping off secondary grade school students before re-routing for elementary school kids. "When we purchased Versatrans Routing & Planning in the summer of 2007, we hadn't been planning the shift to double-tiered routes but we knew we wanted that capability," Tobias said.

In fact, Tobias believes without Versatrans' capabilities to improve routing the district would not have been able to absorb the $160,000 budget cut. "There may be more savings," Tobias said, "since it looks like we might not be buying buses for another few years ? that's $75,000 per unit."

Versatrans provided the district with the ability to create more efficient routing, including double-tiered routes. "We had a person at Versatrans work with us for a couple of weeks," Tobias said. "We copied some information and she went in and built the two scenarios. Then we were able to compare them and fine tune them through the summer."

Using simulations, the district tweaked and corrected routes, and on Day One the new routing performed perfectly—without any of the first-day confusion or missteps that might have previously been anticipated.

In addition to being able to more readily tackle major routing changes, there are everyday improvements as well. "Parents have the most detailed and accurate route information we've ever been able to give them," said Tobias. "Now they are more at ease knowing exactly when the bus is coming."

In the summer, when transportation staff used to work full time, they are now only needed a few weeks. Student transfers in and out during the school year can be easily routed by the transportation assistant.

Tobias said greater financial savings have been realized because the district can use fewer buses more effectively, thus minimizing the effect of planned reductions in transportation funding.

"This tool helps to make us more efficient and deal with budget cuts as we optimize routes while downsizing the fleet," Tobias said.

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