At what corner should a bus stop be placed? How frequently should the bus stop?
Those are the kind of questions that school district transportation managers have to answer, and many of them are using computer software to get the best results.
Training on how to manage school bus routes often occurs on the job, but Schenectady-based Transfinder is teaming up with Schenectady County Community College to offer online classes for employees of local school districts who are already using Transfinder software, according to company President and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Civitella.
“We’re going to teach them how to be more efficient in using our products, more efficient in routing,” he said.
The classes began earlier this month and are being funded with a $47,000 SUNY Community College Workforce Development Training Grant.
Barbara Kane Pilliod, vice president of marketing and communications for Transfinder, said the software helps in deciding where to locate a stop so it’s in a safe and visible spot and students don’t have to cross in front of the bus to board. The software can also design routes that limit the time buses are idling.
“Buses run on diesel fuel, which is very expensive,” she said. “If you can avoid a bus stopping too frequently, that’s going to save fuel.”
Sometimes a small change in a route can save thousands of dollars, according to Civitella.
“If they save 12 miles a day, our products pay for themselves,” he said.
Civitella also hoped that this program would help train the next generation of people in this field.
“It’s a tough job. There’s a shortage of people that want to go into managing transportation,” he said. “They have to be constantly creative on how to save money.”
Employees from about 50 school districts throughout the state are participating in the program. Enrollment in the courses is currently open only to Transfinder clients.
There are three separate classes of increasing skill level: proficiency, efficiency and management. A total of 76 students are enrolled in the classes, which meet weekly for an hour and a half. Some people are taking more than one class, according to Civitella.
The first two classes meet for 10 weeks and the third for six weeks. Some of the sections overlap. Students interact with the instructors through video conferences and there is homework. Students are graded on a pass/fail standard.
The course was free of charge to the students; the grant is paying the expenses. Civitella said if successful, classes could be opened up to other people besides Transfinder clients.
“Let’s just test this out with our clients, see if the demand is there or not,” he said.
SCCC would be able to take over the project and run it on its own, according to Civitella. One of SCCC’s priorities is workforce development and he said this fits right in with that concept.
Matthew Grattan, executive director of workforce development at SCCC, said in a news release that the college enjoys the partnership with Transfinder.
“Transfinder personnel have been outstanding to work with, and we look forward to a long-standing working relationship with them and their client school districts for many years to come,” he said.
Amanda Cutter, a dispatcher for the Niskayuna Central School District, is participating in the first series of classes. She said she has learned more about organizing in a grid format data such as number of students and types of vehicles in the fleet.
“It just makes it so easy and quick to pull up information,” she said.
Cutter said the training will be very useful in her job as the primary transportation router for the district.
“Hopefully, it will make me better at what I do,” she said.