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School bus routing software streamlines schedules in Carroll

In the coming school year, parents and students will be able to access new school bus route and schedule information on the Carroll County Public Schools website, thanks to a new bus routing system.

Software made by TransFinder is being used to streamline bus scheduling and routing, school officials say. New this year, the school system has posted both morning pickup and afternoon drop off times for each bus stop on its website said Mike Hardesty, the school system's director of transportation services. Last year, only morning schedules were available, he said.

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"For every existing bus stop we are able to show exactly what time parents should expect the bus to arrive and what time parents should expect a child to get off the bus," Hardesty said, seated in his office at the school system administration building, surrounded by bus routing maps hanging on the wall.

Hardesty said information available online excludes bus stops for special education students, because buses pick special needs students up at their homes.

Transportation analyst Anita Stubenrauch demonstrated how the system works. By selecting a portion of a map in Sykesville, she was able to assign 64 students from one neighborhood to the correct bus route with the click of her mouse, which would have been much more of a painstaking process before, she explained.

"It's really nice because it saves us a lot of time," Stubenrauch said.

At the beginning of each school year, transportation services must balance the number of students on each bus.

"While this won't solve the problem of overloaded buses on the first day of school, I would say it probably helps to reduce the number of overloaded buses, because things you would otherwise have been unaware of. Now you know there are a lot of kids in this neighborhood," Stubenrauch said.

Time saved translates to greater efficiency and a better service for students and parents, Hardesty said.

Hardesty said the school system acquired the software about 15 years ago, but it wasn't until last year the school system hired staff to input student data and set up the new TransFinder bus routing system, Hardesty explained. Carroll County Public Schools spent about $37,600 in total to purchase the system, according to Christopher Hartlove, CCPS chief financial officer. The school system also pays an annual licensing fee of $8,900 to use the program. That fee, Hartlove noted, was lower in 1998, but has increased over time.

It is likely money well spent, according to Hardesty.

"We would hope that the computer system will point out any efficiencies or inefficiencies in our routing… it certainly is a better method of identifying the information that will be important to the schools and important to the parents," Hardesty said. "It's an efficiency that should generate savings."

Before bus route arrival and departure times were available online, the school system would post schedules with a start time for the bus and an arrival time, Hardesty said. Parents and students were required to interpolate between the start of the route and the end of the route where along the route their bus might be, Hardesty said.

Before computerized scheduling, the school system used a paper system, which was a convoluted process that made it difficult to determine when buses were scheduled to depart and arrive from bus stops, Hardesty explained.

"Many times [school staff] ended up referring a person to [transportation services] because we're certainly more familiar with the bus stops and the routes around the county," Hardesty said.

Hardesty said schools will now have access to the computerized routing system as well, which allows them to look up information about each route and the bus to which they have been assigned.

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Hardesty said he feels as though his department is adequately prepared for the new school year.

"That being said, there are always some students that are new to the school system and we may not have a bus stop for them, so there is a process whereby they have to fill out a survey form that is available to them on our website," Hardesty said.

Area supervisors will go out to the locations requested and see if stops are warranted, and establish new stops if necessary, Hardesty explained.

Hardesty said once transportation services determines routes are accurate, the routing software could be used as an audit tool.

"We pay the [bus] contractor based upon miles and time and use of the bus, so we want to make sure what we're paying them is accurate," Hardesty said. "There are many ways to go from A to B and we want to make sure they're going the most efficient way."

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