From a student's perspective, a bus ride to school is a simple process: the big yellow vehicle comes to a halt at a street corner, or for lucky students, in front of their house. The passengers find their seats, and soon they are delivered to the doorstep of their schoolhouse.

But before any of those students climb aboard a bus, school administrators have had to deal with many decisions: Which students are eligible to ride a bus to school? How many buses does an individual school or an entire district need? Should the school system own its own buses, or would it be more economical to hire an outside contractor? How many children should a particular bus pick up? What is the most efficient route for the bus to travel? How many stops should the bus make?

The answers to those questions become more complex as districts grow larger: more students to transport, more riders with specialized needs, more roads to navigate, more school locations to arrive at, more mileage on already heavily used vehicles. Bus transportation can affect school start times and how a school system draws attendance boundaries.

To ease the headaches that accompany student transportation planning, many districts have turned to computerized management systems. These systems enable transportation managers to integrate school district data with area maps, and create routes and schedules more easily.

Many software packages are available for transportation planning. Among the features that can be found on many of these systems is geographic information system technology that collects and analyzes geographical information and displays it graphically. This allows maps to be generated that show student residences, school sites, traffic hazards and other relevant data. Maps can be updated easily as new subdivisions are built or families move.

Some districts use global positioning systems as part of their transportation management to allow for precise, up-to-the-minute tracking of school buses.

Other features that can be part of a transportation-management system include vehicle maintenance and repair records; data on fuel consumption; bus-driver records; requests for and the status of requests for field-trip transportation; and web access that offers students and parents information about bus schedules, including announcements about weather delays or special events.

For school systems having to draw new attendance boundaries, transportation-management software systems can enable managers to experiment with different borders and determine which boundaries will produce the most efficient transportation operations.

NOTABLE

8.8 Billion

Annual number of student trips to and from school on school buses.

1.2 Billion

Annual number of student “activity trips” on school buses.

450,000

Number of school buses that transport children each day in the United States.

24 Million

Number of students transported each day on school buses.

Source: School Bus Information Council