Monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on school transportation, role of technology in recovery

RENO, Nevada – A panel of transportation professionals examined the changes in their operations caused by COVID-19 and discussed the ever-changing technological market and the trends they look to when making decisions for their operations, students and families served, and their bottom line department.

Panel facilitator and STN chairman Tony Corpin began Wednesday’s general session by acknowledging the catastrophic role COVID-19 continues to play on transport operations, but added that he was looking for positive news. “What is going well in your operations and how has technology helped you? ” He asked.

Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation and fleet services at Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado, reported that operational slowdowns caused by COVID-19 freed up money he used to purchase new technology, including on-board bus cameras and tablets for contact tracing. Since his district focused his Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Assistance (ESSER) funding in other areas, he creatively used his allocated budget for these purchases.

“It’s always chaos with new technologies,” he laughed. “So we try to educate and do as much training as possible.” He explained that his staff appreciated the addition of the technology because now they don’t have to do so much manually.

His wishlist includes electric buses and solar panels for mounting on buses.

Hear Greg Jackson share more on the STN podcast:

“Covid has had blessings in disguise. It has forced us to look at some of our inefficiencies and become more efficient, ”said Jennifer Vobis, executive director of transportation for the Clark County School District near Las Vegas, the fifth largest district in the United States.

Although she began her work during the pandemic, Vobis confirmed that most of the transition has gone smoothly and that support from staff and students is uninterrupted. For example, it provided online training to its 1,500 drivers during pandemic shutdowns.

Hear Jennifer Vobis share more on the STN podcast:

Commenting that COVID-19 is likely to stick around and requires continuous adjustment of processes, she spoke of a new system that updates transportation offices and parents of students when a driver calls in sick. Drivers are given disinfection supplies, PPE and training to keep buses clean – a process she plans to continue in the future.

“This is our reality. Let’s use this information to move forward, “she said, warning of a futile desire to go back to the” pre-Covid “era.

Corpin noted that managing parent expectations is crucial and Vobis agreed, adding that communication about bus cleaning and student safety protocols greatly contributes to parent satisfaction. Contact tracing and live cameras are other ways to use technology to help in this area, she said.

Deputy Director of Transportation Anthony Shields explained that Hays ISD, one of the fastest growing districts in Texas, was able to achieve significant route consolidation during COVID-19, made possible by routing software and robust student tracking.

Electronic driver registration and bus disinfection are other COVID-19 inspired developments that he says will persist for good.

Listen to Anthony Shields share more on the STN podcast:

Looking ahead, Vobis said Clark County bought several electric buses with grants. She currently operates propane buses, which she says work well for the rural areas served by the district.

Jackson noted that new technology projects require extensive preparation and collaboration with partners. The same goes for the district’s recently rolled out propane buses and its plan to add electricity, with infrastructure being a major consideration in both cases.

Shields shared that Hays ISD has purchased 10 new propane buses through a grant and is now focused on building infrastructure for additional vehicles.

Corpin then asked what strategies and technologies the panelists were using to help them function under the pressure of COVID-19.

Photo courtesy of Vincent Rios Creative.

Vobis explained that Clark County communicates with the community and cooperates with local public transport to get older students to and from school, which gives students more flexibility and takes the strain off the district transportation department.

“When there is better efficiency, we provide better service,” she said.

When Jeffco had to cut routes due to a driver shortage, Jackson focused on communicating with parents and supporting drivers who were still working. A parent carpool system was created to ensure students get to and from school. Alternative transport providers ALC Schools and HopSkipDrive help transport host family students or those with special needs.

Hays ISD also enlisted parents to help transport their children. In addition, ridership technology shows whether students are not using the bus transportation requested by their parents, which allows for further rationalization.

“Adaptability is a sign of resilience,” said Vobis.

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Panelists summed up the importance of staying open and flexible, working collaboratively with your team, being open in communicating with staff and families, and showing appreciation for the hard work that staff of transport made during the pandemic.

In this vein, Corpin advised attendees to attend this afternoon’s trade show and thoughtfully consider and purchase the technology and services that will best support transport workers as well as families they need. they serve.

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