Schools and school districts are constantly on the look-out to reduce operational costs wherever possible. The reduced budgets given to schools prompt them to cut costs in areas that do not directly affect classroom studies. School Bus transportation costs thus become a target when school administrations seek to curtail their expenses.
Bus transportation costs depend on the age of the fleet, wages, maintenance expenditure,fuel-consumption, insurance charges. This comprises of 80% of the total cost.Capital costs include purchase cost of new vehicles and cost of fleet replacement. Operating a school bus fleet at optimal efficiency has a direct impact on the costs saved.
Methods to reduce school bus transportation costs
1. Reducing the number of buses
Operating a fleet of school buses is expensive. The best method to reduce costs is to reduce the number of buses in operation. Trimming the fleet automatically decreases driver wages, fuel consumption, wear and tear of vehicles etc. These factors contribute enormously in saving costs.
Efficient route management is the most practical way to lower costs without hampering the quality of service provided.The best model in cost-cutting serves to get students to school efficiently while optimizing transport times.
2. Route management
Transporting pupils to schools is a complex matter. Technological advances have helped school administrators tackle the issue with considerable ease. Software systems are used to develop bus routes. Some schools still do the route mapping manually.
Schools have to periodically review their bus routes in terms of the actual number of students using the bus and the total time utilized. Simple adjustments to the previous year’s routes will not help in lowering operational costs.
School administrators cut backs on stops and routes to stay within the budget. Minor changes in operations like minimizing trips and routes, often result in great advantages.
3. Trip planning
The number of students at each bus-stop, stop locations and bus capacities has a direct impact on the charting of bus routes. Minimizing the number of trips minimizes the number of buses required.
Trips can be linked together on a single bus route if school start and finish timings are altered slightly. The elementary, middle and high school start and dismissal times are fixed to fall within a certain time slot.
Then it becomes possible to link more trips together on a single bus. This decreases the number of buses required in total. The optimal combination of alternate bell timings and trips results in saving costs and increasing efficiency.
4. Route planning
A method used to increase operational efficiency is route planning. A single route is designed for children of different schools in a school district. Trips of different schools are combined to form one route.
A single bus is assigned to this specific route. This reduces the time the buses run without students on board as well as the number of buses on each route. Each route becomes longer but serves more trips on one single route.
This minimizes the number of routes resulting in lower operational costs. Pollution caused by diesel exhaust fumes is reduced to a large extent. This model is viable where schools fall under the purview of one governing authority and the services of a centralized bus company is utilized. Private schools which own their own buses might not be open to this model.
5. Walking School Bus
‘Walking School Bus’ is a new concept which has been adopted by neighborhoods in the US. When rerouting to optimize costs, some of the routes closer to the schools get eliminated. In such cases, students along those routes group together and walk to school under the supervision of an adult.
The parents and children like the idea of walking as it is healthy. Students feel energetic and fresher. Most often students get to school quicker as school buses normally take more time picking up children on their routes.
These students can either walk or bike to school. This enables students staying further away, disabled or otherwise-able students to avail bus services .Student safe zones have to be ensured.
6. Alternative fuel vehicles
States and cities in the US spend roughly $15 million annually transporting children to school. Diesel, that powers most of the buses, is now very expensive.
Governmental regulations on cutting down the pollution, forces one to adopt alternative fuel sources for running vehicles. Propane, CNG and Electric vehicles are available options. Hybrid diesel-electric vehicles, though expensive, are used by some schools.
Cost of vehicles running on alternative fuel is high as compared to the cost of diesel engine vehicles. There is a significant reduction in fuel costs. Air pollution due to diesel exhaust fumes is drastically reduced leaving lesser carbon footprint. Better utilization of the buses can make it viable in the long run.
The buses in the existing fleet can be retrofitted with alternative fuel engines. This can help reduce the initial capital expenditure. When deciding to retrofit, the age of the vehicle has to be taken into account,to gain maximum benefit.
7. Maintenance cost
Regular maintenance is needed to keep the buses safe on the road. Less number of school buses on the road means lesser maintenance of vehicles. Savings on parts, supplies and labor is considerable when the number of buses is minimal.
A maintenance program that can extend the life of buses is essential.Periodical regular maintenance and scheduled preventive maintenance will reduce the incidence of unexpected breakdowns and the costs associated.
Schools and transport companies need to have policies on disposal of buses that cannot serve efficiently.
8. Staff expenses
A reduction in the number of buses will require less number of staff to man them. The reduced number of drivers brings about a huge saving in wages. Efficient routing and time management will reduce overtime costs.
Fleet management software provides real-time feedback and comprehensive reporting enabling safe and efficient pupil transportation.
Using digital software systems for routing, GPS systems for locations, RFID readers for bus attendance; CCTV to monitor bus discipline reduces the need for administrators handling these functions manually.
The one-time capital expenditure to install the technology and equipment required will considerably save on otherwise recurring expenses.
9. Down-side of cost reduction
Re-routing and elimination of routes will leave a good number of students without transport. Cutting bus routes without proper plans regarding student safety will cause adverse effects.
When bus stops or routes are eliminated parents react with anger. They are concerned about the dangers involved when their wards walk or cycle to school. Parents then opt to drop them to school in their cars.
About36 cars are needed to transport an equivalent bus-load of students. This proportionately increases traffic congestion and corresponding air pollution on the roads.
The incidence of accidents is higher among cars increasing the risk of safety. School buses meet with fewer accidents. Their big sizes allow them to withstand damage better on an impact. School buses are considered to be 13 times safer than cars.
School buses in the US alone transport 25 million students, travelling distances of approximately 4 billion miles each year. Decreasing school budgets and rising fuel prices necessitates minimizing school bus operational costs.
It is worth the effort to stream-line the operations to ensure safer transportation of students at minimal costs to the school.