Rethinking Post-Pandemic School Transportation Services: Part I

The last two years have demonstrated that transportation operations can be a lot more nimble and flexible than many people assumed. That level of flexibility will be essential as we begin to transition back into whatever normal operations begin to look like.

However, the ability to make the changes required to respond to everything that is likely to occur in a post-pandemic world will necessitate backing up the traditional planning schedule. Unfortunately, for transportation this means the planning schedule will essentially be a perpetual schedule of planning, resetting, and replanning. Few organizations are prepared for this new reality.

In this first post, we’ll explore the ways we need to rethink Planning Cycle and the Tools we use; next week we’ll dive into how we deploy People and strategic Thinking.

Planning Cycle

One change brought on by the pandemic is the “groundhog day” nature of the routing process. It seems as if it is necessary to redesign some or all of the routes everyday to respond to who is in that day, what schools are open, and which ones are on hybrid schedules. We are of the belief that this is one of the more likely artifacts of the pandemic to continue into the future.

This nearly daily rebuild of the routing scheme will necessitate a more robust dispatch-based approach versus the traditional routing-based approach to transportation management. Thai means we need to expect to redesign and reassign routes regularly. As a result, we need to be thinking of the planning cycle not as a summer activity anymore, but a nearly daily part of our management responsibilities. If this prediction is correct, it will have profound effects on both the transporters and the transported.


The first key implication of daily redesigns of the routing structure is that the tools and processes we use must get better and provide more timely information with less user intervention. Developing automated driver check in and check out procedures coupled with alerts on the timing of yard departures using geofencing and GPS will be table stakes for this new world. While this will be uncomfortable for many because it will eliminate the “eyes on” dispatching approach espoused for so many years, it will be necessary because dispatch operations will be far too busy managing the daily routing changes. This basic requirement will challenge technology vendors and the teams supporting transportation to develop both the tools and processes to accommodate this change.

What seems obvious is that even the smallest organizations are going to require some type of location-based information (GPS) and management software. What needs to be rethought is whether this means we begin to deemphasize planning tools and overemphasize tools to manage actual activities that can deliver real time changes to drivers to reflect real time conditions. This seems like the obvious promise of tablets, but whether they as a technology and we as organizations are ready remains a significant question to be addressed.


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