Transportation Department considering GPS, routing systems to make bus routes safer, more efficient

TENNERTON – It is no secret that Upshur County Schools has faced a shortage of bus operators and substitutes – as have many counties across West Virginia.

In fact, this was an issue even before the pandemic.

Now, imagine how difficult it must be for substitute bus operators to run the routes by flipping through pages to see where to go next to pick up students, especially when it is dark, and the roads are snowy.

During the Tuesday Upshur County Board of Education meeting, Jodie Akers, director of attendance and transportation, along with Steve Ellis from Matheny Motors, introduced some enhancements available for the Upshur County School Bus fleet that would address some of those issues, provide reports and clear up some safety concerns.

Akers said she did some research and found some GPS systems that would help with the vision for transportation with Upshur County Schools.

“We have been talking for a year about what that vision is and where we want to be,” Akers said. “Part of that vision is to build and organize our routes efficiently, to easily keep track of the children and our buses and those locations, to give parents an easy-to-use app to locate their child’s bus, to automatically incorporate turn-by-turn directions for every route and trip – which is exciting for a substitute driver, and simply log children’s attendance on buses with scanning of a card.”

Akers said Ellis would assist with the presentation on the GPS system in which the the transportation department was currently interested.

“The reason we are looking at GPS is we know the end result we are looking for, but before can do that we must have accurate addresses,” Akers said. “They have turned on our GPS systems on 13 of our buses that have them. We will show how this can make it easier for our bus operators as well.”

She said in the end, the goal is to have a routing system. Akers said to bring the other 33 buses up to date, it would cost $225 per bus, and once the buses each had that, it would cost $21 per month per bus to run the system.

“The reports will transmit problems directly to our mechanics,” Akers said. “We are looking at the ZPASS and are working with our special education department, with the state department and with the Medicaid Office to see if this feature will meet all of the Medicaid requirements for our special needs buses. This will help with up-to-date Medicaid billing. Students would have a card to scan as they get on and exit the buses. That is another feature on how we can grow our system.”

Akers said with the routing system, drivers would not have to keep track of mileage.

“With the click of a button, as they drive those buses on the routes, we can have up-to-date schedules instantaneously – it will be amazing for families and for our department to answer questions,” Akers said. “The other thing the routing system will do is help with inventory.”

Ellis said Fleetsoft, a fleet maintenance and parts inventory management software, was installed about a month ago and captures all the inventory that comes in and goes out and captures all the work completed on all the buses.

“It is very powerful and gives instant data,” Ellis said. “The hardest role in the school system is a substitute bus driver; they are learning a new vehicle and learning a new route, and they may not even be from this county. Their check engine light comes on in the bus and they do not know where they are. Instantly, at the bus garage they can see there is a problem and how to get to the bus. It is instant access. It also helps if a bus is on a field trip and is three hours away. There is instant access to see what the issue is and where the bus is located – there is a lot of power in that for the shop to be able to see where the bus is.”

“Right now, all we have to depend on is the radio,” Akers said. “If something would happen to that driver or the radio goes down, we do not have a close proximity as to where that bus is located. This will be a great safety feature for us as well, for our drivers.”

Akers said as part of their research, they sent an email to every transportation department director throughout the state.

“We had 39 responses and I talked to 12 individually who called back,” Akers said. “I wanted to know how many counties had GPS systems and how many had routing systems and how many were to the app portion for parents. Of the 39 counties, 21 counties are using some kind of GPS system currently. Seventeen of the 39 have a routing system or are starting a routing system. Those with the routing system said they wished they had started with the GPS system to have accurate addresses to build the routing systems. Three of those counties said they are using the parent app.”

Also, during Tuesday’s meeting, Tim Derico, director of facilities, shared a proposed calendar for the 2021-2022 school year. Derico said the counties that typically meet to work on the calendar include Lewis, Barbour, Gilmer and Upshur.

“We did meet once so far, and we do plan to meet again,” Derico said. “This calendar is the first test – what we have tried to do is maintain a calendar that will serve our folks at the Fred Eberle Technical Center because of the Lewis, Barbour, Upshur connection – that brings in Gilmer County because of their shared school and Calhoun County because of their shared technical school. So, it becomes somewhat of a chess game as we move dates to accommodate things.”

Derico said Upshur County Schools use a day in August as a first day on campus, which adds a nuance for as well as a day during the West Virginia Strawberry Festival, and it is different from other county’s preferences.

“The calendar that you have is identical to theirs (the other counties) except for we start one day earlier and the day during the Festival,” Derico said. “The proposed calendar affords for a full spring break in late March and allows students to be out of school on Good Friday and the Monday following Easter.”

Derico said the calendar is quite similar to the ones approved in years past.

“We will have the first hearing for the proposed calendar at the next BOE meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School,” he said.

The last day of instruction for students is scheduled for May 27 and last day for teachers is set as June 7.

The next regular Upshur County Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6 p.m. at Buckhannon-Upshur High School auditorium. During that meeting, BOE members will have the first hearing about the proposed school calendar for 2021-2022, will address the re-entry plan for instruction and possibly have a vote on that and will offer the superintendent evaluation in accordance with WV code 18-4-19 and may act regarding the superintendent’s contract.

Check back with My Buckhannon to read Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus’ remarks as she tells of her accomplishments and positive strides she feels have been made during her tenure as Upshur County School Superintendent.

News Feed

Subscribe to remove popups, or just enjoy this free story and support our local businesses!