Rethinking Post-Pandemic School Transportation Services: Part II

Last week, we dug into how post-pandemic life affect Planning Cycle and Tools (if you haven’t read it yet, start here). This week, we’re moving toward the People and Thinking.


All the technology out there won’t do us any good if we don’t rethink who is using it and how. For years we have emphasized promoting individuals “who can route” and have valued (and maybe overvalued) those individuals who seemed to “know” all the routes in our system. If the systemic emphasis in operations is going to shift from a planning first environment to one where we are redeveloping routes “on the fly” we will need individuals with different skill sets who are trained differently.

We will need to seek out individuals who are comfortable with robust technologies and capable of cajoling people to do things they may not want to do. The daily nature of changes is going to stress many operations and the routing manager/dispatcher of the future will be the lynchpin to keeping this all together. We are also going to have to pay them more, maybe even a lot more. The three dimensional chess that future dispatchers will play daily means they will need to be among the smartest, most disciplined, most amenable, and most valuable people in our organization.


Traditionally, stability and predictability was the coin of the realm for transportation departments. Success was often measured not in terms of efficiency or effectiveness, but whether we could prevent the Superintendent’s phone from ringing. That benchmark for success made a lot of organizations averse to change and hyper focused on a set it and forget approach to routing.

Those days appear to be over. Changes in educational practices, which transportation must support, have been accelerated by the pandemic. As a result, transportation operations will need to shift their focus to predicting how services will be disrupted by changes in expectations, communicating that to the Superintendent before their phone starts ringing, and implementing changes that will maximize the availability of service while minimizing the costs and disruptions. This is no small thing. It will require us to rethink a huge number of the foundational principles upon which many operations are built while also requiring us to identify and develop the next generation of leaders who can shepherd this transition. While there are no guarantees of a successful transition, it is guaranteed that it will not be boring.

The pressure on transportation has never been low. However, the changes in attitude, practice, and availability wrought by the pandemic will look increasingly profound the further into the future we go. Rethinking the when, what, who, and why of how we provide transportation will challenge the industry and its operations like few things, even the pandemic, ever have. Today is built on thousands of yesterdays and tomorrow will be built on today. Let’s rethink today to create a better tomorrow.


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