The audience packed in to learn “What Student Transportation & School Buses May Look Like in 2024,” a workshop presented at last month’s STN EXPO in Reno, Nev., that covered many potential changes both inside and outside of the yellow bus in the next decade.
The panelists of the futuristic session included Pete Meslin, executive director of transportation at Newport Mesa USD in California; Josh Rice, director of transportation New Caney ISD in Texas; and Mike McQuade, CTO at Zonar. In his introduction, Meslin affirmed that safety, service and efficiency have been the industry’s top three priorities since joined the field decades ago, and these will remain intact even with coming changes in technology. He added that Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, dictates that technology will double every 18 months.
Meslin, who is also an STN editorial advisor and contributor, emphasized the importance of data mining considering how much data transportation professionals have at their fingertips in today’s digital world. The next step is learning how to utilize it to make data-driven decisions, such as how many buses to run and whether to charge for rides.
“I believe free busing will go away, with the cost of fuel going up and emissions reduction equipment … When that happens, you’ll need a validation system similar to transit,” said Meslin, noting that RFID, facial recognition and biometrics will come into play.
In making predictions for innovations inside the bus, Meslin and Rice (pictured, from left) disagreed on the future of seat belts. Meslin said while he understands the engineering behind compartmentalization, he believes making three-point belts standard on school buses would be a “feel-good decision.” Yet Rice had another take on the issue.
“There’s no funding for seatbelts and I don’t see it ever being provided, but I do see the option of side-impact airbags, which are already standard on cars. I’d rather spend $8,000 to $9,000 on this because I know districts who have installed seat belts report 10- to 15-percent compliance, especially with older students,” commented Rice.
McQuade pointed out that onboard technology may soon put an end to distracted driving, saying, “It’s only a matter of time before cell-phone use will be sensed and maybe disabled. There are two solutions whereby you can turn the phone off except for emergencies but neither one is perfect — yet. It will take a bad accident to force some kind of mandate.”
Outside the bus, he said he sees wider tires making their way to the school bus market and more widespread use of LED lights.
Meslin and Rice agreed that many more school buses will carry Wi-Fi routers in the next decade.
“If we are truly an extension of the classroom, we need to have Wi-Fi and access to the Cloud,” Meslin said. “We may replace seizure dogs with sensors eventually. The technology is there — it’s just a matter of getting it on the bus. It will make students who are medically fragile so much safer. And you could argue it’s (Wi-Fi) needed for these sensors.”
McQuade discussed the cloud, computing and analytics, and told attendees, “All of the things on the server in your office will migrate to the cloud. This data will generate answers and give insights to how you operate buses so you can save money, improve safety and increase efficiency.”