The bus in an interconnected world

Part 1: The Future of the Yellow School Bus

Our societal response to the pandemic threw a spotlight on one element of the technology revolution. Who would have believed six months ago that most of us could do most of our work from home, connecting seamlessly to meetings and our peers using a host of web-based conferencing and communications tools? The stuff of science fiction is now reality, but it took the shock of the pandemic to make it mainstream. In a similar way, technology has been infiltrating the school bus for years. We believe that one of the key aftereffects of the pandemic will be accelerated adoption of current and rapidly expanding on-board technologies to help us adapt to new ways of work that were unthinkable a short time ago. The technology revolution is here to stay. It is time for the school bus to catch the wave.

Part of the reality already facing our industry is the cohort of digital-native pupils. Part of the reality of our near future is the emergence of the cohort of digital-native parents. Even without the pressure of the pandemic, the expectations of these customer groups have been evolving for a long time. The pressure for constant connection on the school bus, and for the use of real-time data to provide these customers with the information they demand, and now, will only be accelerated in the new world of changing educational paradigms. The school bus is becoming another node in the network. The current focus on gaining real-time confirmation of a pupil’s presence on the bus will shortly be expanded to an expectation of knowing what that pupil is actually doing while on the ride, and the ability to use the school bus as an extension of the classroom.

Our response to the pandemic has also accelerated the pressing requirement to improve our visibility into, and our ability to influence, the moment-to-moment operation of the school bus itself. Passive locational data pushed from GPS receivers on the bus to stand-alone tracking software back in the office is old news. Massive amounts of related operational data, now moving in both directions, and used for in-the-moment management of all activities associated with the school bus will soon be our new normal. We will have the ability to monitor and direct the performance and movement of the school bus in real time. The mountains of granular data being captured on every aspect the operator’s performance, and that of the asset itself, will facilitate data-based management and decision-making unheard of a short time ago.

These changes are being driven by more than the evolution and availability of technology. It is also being driven by the evolution in the way we provide education, which in turn is being altered by the changing needs of the workforce and economic constraints that will be long impacted by the aftereffects of the pandemic. Specialized programs, school choice options, and the overall trend toward distributed learning will be impacted by, and in turn will influence the need for further technology adoption and connectivity on the school bus.

We believe these trends are plain to see, if you look. We also believe there will be key pitfalls to avoid and challenges to overcome for our profession to successfully adapt to the new interconnected school bus. These are the same pitfalls and challenges that have been with us since the first practical information technology began to appear on our desktops forty years ago. They are:

  • Remembering always that technology is a tool, not a solution;
  • Ensuring that we are not presented with rivers of data, but without a drop to drink;
  • Recognizing that technology proficiency is not evenly distributed throughout our workforce; and
  • Reconciling the promise of technology with the reality of making it work for us.

Are we ready for this fundamental transformation? Stay tuned for more and join the conversation. Next time: How bus routing is likely to change.