Thirty miles east of Indianapolis, with 1,150 students split between two elementary schools and two combination junior high schools, Shelby Eastern Schools provides transportation to approximately 950 students each day across 18 bus routes.
When Katrina Falk, director of transportation, arrived at Shelby Eastern Schools, she was not a stranger to implementing best routing practices. At her previous district, she had been presented with a loose-leaf binder filled with a combination of typed and handwritten bus routes. According to Falk, many children were often riding four different buses in a single day, resulting in messy timelines and an overall lack of accountability.
“Parents would call wanting to know which routes their kids were on, and I had no idea,” Falk said. “I would have to get on Google Maps and put their address in, narrowing it down to the routes I knew were in that area.”
“You can’t tell a parent where the bus is, where it’s going, or where it’s been,” Falk added. “We had bus routes on top of one another that had just been band aided together.”
After meeting with the superintendent, assistant superintendent, and director of finance, Falk made it her first project as transportation director to source a routing software for the district – a process she would carry with her to Shelby Eastern Schools.
“Going through that process was an eyeopener,” Falk said. “But I was able to take my time and go through the pros and cons of every company and how we could pair that technology with GPS and our OEM equipment.”
Falk concentrated on various companies’ industry partners and narrowed her options down to Transfinder and a competitive vendor, focusing on what each software suite could offer the district and which was most comprehensive.
As a smaller school district, board members were worried that Transfinder’s suite offered too many features that the district would never use.
“But I didn’t want to get into a situation where we needed some type of functionality and it was going to be an additional cost or it wasn’t even available,” Falk said. “That’s what really stood out with Transfinder. There was no upgraded package, all of the functionality was there.”
After presenting her findings to the school board, the district agreed with her decision to move forward with Transfinder’s Routefinder solution, launching a multi-month implementation process. The district elected to have Transfinder build their routes and subsequently began collecting route information from their team of drivers.
Falk then attended Transfinder University where she took place in a three-day introductory routing software proficiency class. The training period spanned from January to May, at which point the district was able to use the entire product suite without training wheels. Falk also attended another three-day Transfinder University course covering Routing Operation Strategies that spring.
The drivers tested the routes Falk had built on her own for summer school, and on the first day of summer session, Falk was able to view their perfectly-run GPS trails.
“The first test run I had was building the summer school routes, and that was really impressive,” Falk said. “To be able to load all of the summer session students, plot them on the map, and then actually put those routes together. That was probably the smoothest opening to a summer session we had.”
The district’s next step was to go into cleanup mode, addressing the overlap and timeline inadequacies within the routes. This cleanup process led to the elimination of duplicate, overlapping coverage areas; condensing under-utilized routes; and justifying the purchase of larger-capacity buses.
“With all of the savings and restructuring, we were able to justify purchasing our first 84-passenger school bus,” Falk said. “That was the first time we were able to do that. We had never bought a bus larger than a 66-passenger bus, and to see it actually work the next school year when all these pieces fell together was great.”
The knowledge gained during this process is what Falk applied immediately upon her return to Shelby Eastern Schools, where she was tasked with optimizing their existing routes within her first month. “Understanding the routing process as well as the functionality available through Transfinder more finitely than ever, I was able to replicate the same ‘clean-up’ process I had applied at my previous district to the routes at Shelby Eastern.” After extensive reexamination, Falk was able to cut one route entirely and convert two additional routes from individual owner-operator routes to district owned and operated routes, saving the district close to $90,000.00 per school year.
Having the software also contributed to a cleaner bidding process, allowing the district to demonstrate accurate bus route and mileage data to bidding contractors, saving the district from paying out additional miles that were not being driven.
“Obviously, there is a cost upfront for the routing software,” Falk added. “But what we received in return was this measurable advantage. The real, raw data justifies the district’s investment.”