Connectivity: The Future of School Buses

This content is sponsored by Thomas Built Buses.

What does the future of the school bus industry look like? With telematics, the future of pupil transportation lies in connectivity. School buses are becoming more efficient, safer through enhanced driver performance, easier to maintain and just plain “smarter,” all of which also decrease the total cost of ownership.

And the future isn’t that far off. In fact, enhanced technologies through telematics are here today and they’re here to stay. In the spring of 2014, Thomas Built Buses introduced Zonar’s V3 telematics control unit on the Saf-T-Liner® C2 as factory-installed standard equipment, becoming the first OEM in the industry to add telematics in-line. Today, Thomas Built installs Zonar on its full line of school buses including the Saf-T-Liner® HDX, Saf-T-Liner® EFX and Minotour®.

“Other bus manufacturers offer this level of telematics as an add-on,” said Caley Edgerly, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses. “But we realize that connectivity and the ‘connected bus’ is the future. So we install Zonar components at no additional cost right here in our factory. In our Saf-T-Liner C2 school buses, we connect Zonar telematics directly into our proprietary multiplex wiring system. This connectivity enables the system to monitor multiple chassis and body features, providing real-time, actionable data. And, unlike other telematics products, ours can be configured and reconfigured over the air without rewiring.”

Increased Visibility Makes School Buses Safer and More Efficient with Lower Total Cost of Ownership

The new connected bus isn’t just about enhanced serviceability. Connectivity is now allowing school buses to run safer and more efficiently, and provide a lower total cost of ownership. David Benson, director of pupil transportation for Chesapeake Public Schools in Chesapeake, Virginia, believes in the benefits of connectivity for his fleet. He recently purchased Zonar solutions for the 549 school buses in his fleet, the largest in Virginia.

“We needed some sort of telematics system to simply track the time and attendance of our drivers,” explained Benson. “But after piloting Zonar’s GPS solution, we realized the benefits are much greater than our initial need. Real-time GPS data is key to our routing, pre-trip and post-trip inspection monitoring ensures we are running an efficient fleet, and the diagnostic tool helps us resolve maintenance issues before they become a bigger problem. We are optimistic that the telematics in our fleet will significantly reduce our downtime and help us lower our total cost of ownership.”

The impact of advanced telematics in Chesapeake Public Schools is not unusual. Just one look at Zonar Ground Traffic Control™, the web-based data management software, shows the impact of telematics on the industry.

Ground Traffic Control can be customized by the user to shows a variety of real-time alerts, dashboards and reports. Just in the Saf-T-Liner C2 alone, Zonar can monitor activities such as seat belt use, door opening and closing, wheelchair-lift activation, stop-arm operation and parking brake engagement. And the list goes on to include:

tbb zonar telematics

With Zonar installed on the Saf-T-Liner EFX, Saf-T-Liner HDX and Minotour, fleet managers can monitor school bus location, mileage, fuel usage and driver behavior such as speeding, excessive idling, hard acceleration, braking, cornering. Zonar also delivers remote engine and system diagnostics.

Additionally, because Thomas Built buses come equipped with Zonar as standard equipment, adding additional levels of connectivity and school bus safety technology is seamless. Such technologies include Zonar’s Z Pass™ student rider visibility software, the MyBusVue™ app, which provides peace of mind to parents and school administrators as children are being transported between school and home, and the Zonar Connect™ tablet for expanded driver productivity tools.

“We have only reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what telematics and connectivity can do,” said Edgerly. “Today, we are seeing connectivity on our buses help fleet managers, drivers, dealers and technicians determine safety and maintenance issues before they become larger issues. The impact is significant today, but we expect it to be even more impactful in the future.”

To learn more about advanced telematics or the innovations on Thomas Built Buses, school districts should speak with their local Thomas Built dealer.