As a part of the HSEngage group, we had a chance to learn about the Hamilton Southeastern Schools Transportation Department on February 24th. Zach McKinney, the director of transportation services, presented information on the bus program and what transportation services does. While the plan was to take a short ride on a bus to see the transportation center, we never ended up moving from the location; however, a great discussion was had between Zach and the attendees of the HSEngage group.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools has 340 people in the transportation department. These folks work as drivers, bus attendants, administrative personnel, routers, and mechanics. HSE has a total of 295 employees that hold CDL licenses, which is required in order to drive a school bus.
HSE has the largest district owned bus fleet in the state. While other districts might use more buses, they often have contracts with other organizations that do some of the busing. HSE has 320 total buses in its fleet. The general life of a bus is 12 years before it is replaced.
Obviously, the main task of transportation services is the busing of students to and from school. This is done along bus routes across the district. Transportation services handles 23,417 student files that are applied to 1,214 daily routes. This equates to driving approximately 2.9 million miles per year using 450,000 gallons of fuel. When you consider the current increase in cost of fuel, consider the impact when you if you used roughly 2,000 gallons a day!
The school district is getting an electric bus that will be added to the fleet. This bus has been discussed in board meetings and will be an interesting experiment to see how it operates. Additionally, the school board recently approved moving forward on plans to revamp the transportation center to add more parking and update the overall lot to make it safer and more efficient. You can see recent school board meetings on this. It will be further discussed at school board meetings as bids start to come in for the renovation. Part of the update will include adding infrastructure for more electric buses in the future.
Zach talked at the HSEngage meeting about buses in general as well as what it takes to be a driver. While the 3 tiered route plan has reduced the overall number of drivers needed in the district, more drivers could still be used. The district has training and can help interested candidates get trained and licensed.
We toured one of the newer buses from the district. Like the other buses, it had high seat backs and no seat belts. Zach mentioned that the high seat backs are what make a bus safer for kids in the case of an accident. Seat belts actually can reduce the safety of a bus because they increase the time it takes to get kids out of a bus. If a fire were to happen or a need to disembark exceedingly fast, then seat belts can become a hinderance. While they have seat belt cutters, it would require several to get through all the bets in a single bus.
Zach also pointed out the cameras in a bus. The newest buses are equipped with 360-degree cameras as well as cameras at the front. A total of eight cameras were within the bus we were within. Six of these were over the seats which allows the recording of everything happening on the bus. Kids can duck down to vape or something other nefarious activities, but the cameras, especially on the newer buses will still likely catch see what is happening. There is also a camera pointed down the aisle and within the driver area. Cameras on the outside of the bus including stop arm cameras also exist, but we don’t have those on all the HSE buses.
All the cameras inside or out records locally and can be pulled to review. Obviously it is too much video for anyone to sit and watch; however, if an issue is reported on a bus, the transportation department can pull the memory cards from a bus and review the footage. The video is, however, only retained on the storage for a limited time. A bus with more cameras likely has a shorter retention period. Zach indicated that two weeks is a general rule of thumb. If you know of an issue on a bus, it is important to report it quickly so they can pull the video. If it is longer than two week in the past, then the chance of the video still existing decreases.
As buses modernize, more technology will be added. The drivers currently can use a system that helps map the bus stop locations. GPS and other technology will give more tracking and insight to the transportation department as well. In the future, the transportation department will know what buses do rolling stops through stop signs or other inappropriate things.
Additionally, while we don’t have GPS tracking that parents can follow to see where their child’s bus is located, this is something they are looking into and will be testing over the next year. It was indicated that they might start testing this in the spring for possible use next year. There are a few issues they know they need to work out before they release this to parents/guardians. This includes making sure that parents can log in once and get the routes of all their kids. With 23,417 different routes, this means figuring out what kids are in the same family, and which routes each child belongs to. While this might seem simple, there are a few complexities. For example, there if you have a family with three kids at three different school levels, that can be three different routes (such as grade school, junior high, high school). If the kids go to separate homes on different days (such as with separated parents), then that could double the number of routes. All that has to be taken into consideration as well as put into a secure system.
While we never made it to the mechanical building, it was interesting to learn about the buses, the routes, and what the future of transportation. With the HSE having one of the biggest owned fleets of buses, they have been involved in testing things like the use of electric buses. One thing is definite. Managing a fleet of 320 buses and getting tens of thousands of kids to school each day is no small task.
If you have questions about routes, buses, transportation, or transportation issues, the transportation services and Zach seem more than happy to try to answer them. If you are interested in a job driving a bus, Zach would be thrilled to hear from you!
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