Friday, October 09, 2009

State purchases system to route school buses

Note: I recommended that my school district consider software similar to this over two decades ago. Simple use of a branch of mathematics known as Methods in Operations Research.


By Rich Hewitt
BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Education has signed a contract with two out-of-state companies for software that will help school districts design and manage student transportation systems.

The five-year, $1.3 million contract with Core Education and Consulting Solutions of Atlanta and Transfinder Corp. of Schenectady, N.Y., will provide school districts in Maine with a way to tailor their transportation systems to meet their specific needs, a move that should reduce transportation costs, according to Education Department spokesman David Connerty-Marin.

The Education Department will cover the costs involved and will make the program available to all school districts throughout the state. The $1.3 million includes the startup costs and maintenance over the five-year period, and will save money for districts that have used transportation software systems in the past and have had to pay those yearly fees, he said. The contract also calls for two two-year extensions.

The idea grew out of the school district reorganization plan, Connerty-Marin said, as a way to help districts that had reorganized deal with transportation in the new, larger districts. Using the new system to design more efficient bus routes also should help save districts money on transportation costs, he said.

“Reorganization was all about finding ways to streamline operations,” he said. “This is a huge one.”

Core will manage the project and develop a Web-enabled platform, or secure Web site, where school districts can tap into Transfinder’s software for student routing and transportation.

There will be no cost to the districts, nor will they have to install new software.

“One of the requirements of the contract was that the state didn’t want the districts to have to install software from us,” said Jay Worth, vice president for technology at Transfinder. “The state did a very good job at developing the requirements for this project. They were looking out for the school districts.”

One of the benefits of this system, according to Connerty-Marin, is that Transfinder’s software can be linked to the student data management software school districts already are using. School districts will be able to use that student information with the new system to design bus routes based on individual parameters they want to set. The savings are expected to come from the more efficient bus routes, which should reduce costs for buses, maintenance and drivers, he said.

“The state is enabling districts to connect to a statewide Web-enabled software solution for their routing and transportation needs at no cost,” said Rick Soules, the Education Department’s state transportation director. “This will eliminate the costly and time-consuming efforts by local school units in procuring the same technology from a variety of vendors.”

The system will be run in 10 pilot sites around the state this fall and should be ready to be rolled out next year. Among the pilot sites are school districts in Bethel, Presque Isle, Fairfield, Berwick, Bridgton, Saco and Farmington.

According to Connerty-Marin, the pilot sites include districts that have not used transportation software systems before, some who have used Transfinder’s system and others that have used similar software systems.

“By the time we’re done we should have adapted to all the scenarios we’ll run into,” he said.

Districts that choose to use the system likely will work on it during the spring and implement it for the 2010 school year, Connerty-Marin said.

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