A new fuel-purchasing system and two recently installed software programs at Mansfield City Schools’ transportation department will save time and taxpayers’ dollars according to district Treasurer Robert Kuehnle.
The district has purchased 10 new 71-passenger buses over the last two years through META Solutions, a purchasing cooperative with five Ohio locations, including Marion. “Approximately 400 school districts participate in META. Bidding in such big numbers gets us the best price and saves time on researching and preparing our own bids,” Kuehnle said.
A new 71-passenger, diesel-powered bus costs approximately $83,000; a special needs bus equipped with a wheelchair power lift runs about $91,000. Standard warranties are for five years. The district pays $2,400 for two additional years.
Transportation Director Deb Rickert said the new buses were badly needed to update the district’s aging regular fleet of 30 buses and five spares. Thirty routes cover just over 1,800 miles every school day. In addition, district buses travel between 30,000 and 35,000 miles on field trips annually, most of them to athletic events. “I believe we have the most modern fleet in Richland County. The cost of repairing buses is way down,” Rickert said.
Keeping buses in top shape at the lowest cost is the district’s goal, Kuehnle said. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” he said. “That’s why we have implemented new procedures that will allow us to closely monitor transportation expenses, saving money and time.”
Diesel Fuel. All district buses are diesel-powered. There’s a safety factor involved, Rickert said, because diesel vapors don’t explode or ignite as easily as gasoline vapors. The district has budgeted $150,000 for fuel this year, using Marathon products and a tracking system developed by WEX, a company which operates throughout the United States and in several other countries.
“Each driver has a credit card for fuel purchases. At the pump the driver enters his or her ID and the bus’s odometer reading,” Kuehnle said. “The WEX software allows us to track the fuel efficiency of each bus. If we see something out of line, we can move that bus into the shop to be checked by our two mechanics.”
Rickert emphasized that the credit cards cannot be used for coffee, snacks or other personal purchases. “Each credit card stays with the bus. It would be worthless to anyone else because it cannot be activated without the driver’s ID,” she said.
Kuehnle said WEX handles all of the paperwork involved in a 6 cents-a-gallon rebate from Marathon and forwards a monthly check to the district. The rebate can amount to $4,000 or more annually.
Facilities Management eXpress (FMX) Earlier, Mansfield City Schools and bus manufacturer International Harvester split the cost of diagnostic equipment that connects buses to a laptop computer. In August the transportation department added software by FMX of Grandview Heights, Ohio, which automatically records the costs of maintenance, repairs, new tires, etc.
“We can look back and see complete maintenance and repair issues for each bus,” Kuehnle said. “We can see which buses are costing us the most and determine work needed to be done, under warranty when possible.” Rickert said buses are rotated on shorter and longer routes to extend their life of service. “In the city our buses travel at 25 to 30 mph because they make frequent stops. Running buses constantly at those low speeds isn’t good for the engines, so we rotate buses for use on field trips so they can travel at highway speeds,” she said.
Transfinder Software. Earlier this year the board of education also approved the purchase of Transfinder software, which connects automatically with DASL, the student information system, to place students on the correct buses.
“Previously, school secretaries had to pick up the phone and call the transportation department when a student enrolled or withdrew,” Kuehnle said. “Now Transfinder automatically connects a student’s name and address to bus routes already on the computer. The system determines the correct bus and notifies the transportation department.”
Transfinder saves time and greatly reduces the margin for error, Kuehnle said. The software also displays what it determines to be the best route to a new student’s home but Rickert said that aspect of the system can be overridden if necessary.
“For instance, if the route Transfinder calculates includes an alley or street that is too narrow for a bus, we can adjust it,” Rickert said. “But overall, I love this new system.”
At its meeting last Tuesday the board of education approved the district’s continued participation in META Solutions for future bus purchases. “The average district keeps a bus for about 15 years,” Kuehnle said. “If we were to buy three buses a year, we would turn over our fleet in 10 years. That may not be the best way to go. Our emphasis now is on closely tracking our transportation costs and keeping our buses operating efficiently. We want to get maximum life out of every bus.”