February 2010 was a really bad month for school bus operators in the Detroit-metro area.
First, on February 17, WDIV-TV reported on air and on their website that the Royal Oak, Michigan school district was considering a plan to eliminate student school bus service for six elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school beginning in Fall 2010. The same day, The Detroit Free Press reported that Northville, Michigan school district Superintendent Leonard Rezmierski and the school board there is considering limiting busing services for middle and high school students also beginning in the Fall 2010.
On February 18, it was reported that the Ann Arbor Public Schools could save up to $2,800,000 per year if they privatize the district’s custodians, maintenance workers and bus drivers. And on February 23, the Detroit Public Schools announced they would fully outsource all student bus routes beginning in May saving the district $50,500,000 over the next five years.
High Level of Service
In 2009, the Dexter Community Schools (DCS) authorized Midwestern Consulting to evaluate the optimal location for a new transportation center which is associated with an approved bond project. DCS’s 2010 annual operating budget is $36,000,000 and school busing accounts for $2,200,000 of that.
In order to determine a preferred location, Midwestern first needed to evaluate current per-pupil transport costs and identify how those would be affected if the existing transportation center was re-located.
DCS’s current dual-tier transportation system provides a very high service level: one that exceeds the requirements of the State of Michigan for student transport and one that costs more than their neighbors. For example, school bus stops are designated at each student address even when there are several addresses adjacent to each other along a roadway and only right-side pickups are allowed.
Dexter Will Save Money
Midwestern Consulting utilized an innovative scientific data collection process to gather the student ridership and bus utilization data needed to access DCS’s current route system. The data collection approach included:
- Combining traffic engineering principals with innovative Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies.
- Processing the GPS data and using a computer application to model DCS’s current operations.
- Creating detailed maps for optimized bus routes.
- Creating new efficiency models reflective of revised system metrics using Geographic Information System technologies.
The data in the chart above clearly shows that DCS will save significantly on an annual basis if bus routes are optimized. The DCS study indicated that over $1,000,000 could be trimmed from their transportation budget
Less Busing – Better Service – Lower Costs
After a detailed evaluation of existing transport routes, bus fleet components, transportation facility location, and future serviceability, Midwestern Consulting recommended the following cost saving measures:
- DCS could save $332/student with optimized routes.
- DCS should relocate the transportation facility to a new site.
- DCS should consider changing the dual-tier system to a single-tier system.
- DCS should begin purchasing larger bus units to be able to respond to changing student demographics.
- DCS should consider implementation of a no-transport zone primarily within 1-mile of the campus, if safe school routes are available.
Effectively managing school bus transportation costs has never been more complex than today. Many school districts are facing the same challenge – how to provide safe, convenient, school bus services for students while keeping the costs down. Midwestern Consulting’s unique approach to data collection and analysis showed one school district it is possible to significantly reduce transport costs without privatization or eliminating services.