The Ministry of Education (the Ministry) is responsible for administering school bus services to around 100,000 eligible school children across New Zealand. The routing and maintenance of over 4,000 school bus routes was completed manually using a variety of records in different formats.
This process was inconsistent, costly, time-consuming and inefficient. The Ministry could not confidently report on conformance with transport policy rules and struggled to keep up with ever-changing student demographics and transport data.
“The project outputs have exceeded our expectations.”
- Delaney Myers, Director of School Transport
To overcome these challenges, the Ministry needed a secure, digital, repeatable business process for the creation and maintenance of school bus routes. It was vital that this process adhered to school transport policy, delivered operational and cost efficiency improvements for school transport services, and ensured all services were targeted to the needs of school children and their families.
The Student Transport Route Optimiser (STRO), a spatially-enabled technology solution developed by Critchlow, has provided exactly that.
The Student Transport Route Optimiser (STRO) breaks new ground for the maintenance and development of school bus routes. It has reduced the time taken to review a route from up to four weeks to only four hours and has provided the Ministry with a level of visibility, cost and operational efficiency that wasn’t possible before.
A new benchmark has been set.
STRO has allowed the Ministry to apply school transport policy – which determines student eligibility for government-funded transport – in a consistent way across the whole school population, enabling them to produce trusted, accurate and empirical data and giving certainty to decision-making. It has also allowed the Ministry to offer the most effective school transport routes for school children across New Zealand.
School view of routes and students in STRO, using NationalMap™ web service (data is example only).
“STRO puts the transport policy on a map. It enables the Ministry to report to its stakeholders with confidence. The solution provided is a repeatable and auditable process for the Ministry to collect, collate and disseminate accurate information to key stakeholders. It has given certainty to the Ministry’s decision-making in a way that hasn’t before been possible,” says Scott Kennedy, Critchlow Sales and Marketing Leader.
The project was initially delivered as a pilot in July 2015 throughout the Otago/Southland region and, with the Ministry expressing high levels of satisfaction with the pilot’s outcomes and deliverables, was then rolled out throughout New Zealand. As of August 2016, STRO is being used on a daily basis by the Ministry’s national office School Transport team and regional service agents across the country.
Graeme Bond, Transport Manager at School Support Ltd, which administers school transport services to South Island schools on behalf of the Ministry, was involved in the pilot. Graeme described the pilot project as “a ‘breath of fresh air’ in how it has delivered on service agents’ business needs.”
The School Transport team now views STRO as one of its core business solutions and anticipates utilising the system and the information it provides for a minimum of five years. As Delaney Myers, Director of School Transport for the Ministry of Education notes, “The project outputs have exceeded our expectations.”
High level reporting functionality: Reporting functionality is a key component of STRO. Shown here is a report that compares key metrics for a current and proposed route. Reporting is available at regional, school and individual level.
Proactive cost monitoring.
Using STRO, service agents can proactively optimise routes; and the faster review cycle pays off by right sizing transport services to student needs while ensuring cost-effective delivery of transport services. The Ministry has also said that, despite the system only having been in use since June 2016 nationwide, savings generated by STRO means all costs associated with its development will be recouped this financial year.
“STRO will, quite simply, deliver better value for money, giving confidence to the Ministry and its stakeholders that funds are being spent judiciously,” says Scott.
Enables national collaboration.
This transformative solution provides a level of transparency that did not exist before. For the first time, the Ministry’s national office team and regional service agents can access a single core system that leverages key, authoritative data.
“Whether it’s a Ministry representative or a service agent, each user sees the same results. This creates an environment that is transparent and one that is capable of accommodating the constant changes in student rolls, roading data, and schools. People involved in decisions regarding bus routes are now working with nationally consistent, empirical evidence on which to base their decisions,” says Scott.
STRO ensures that the needs of New Zealand school children and their families is catered to.
Working in partnership.
“Critchlow’s comprehensive project management methodology was one of the keys to the success of this project,” explains Scott.
“Genuine collaboration characterised the development of STRO. Outstanding communication, agile development and our ‘one team’ approach have produced outcomes that deliver real value for the Ministry.”
Delaney from the Ministry was “very pleased” with the collaborative project management approach for STRO.
The Ministry faced two major challenges: the increasing cost in delivering school transport services; and difficulty in accurately maintaining bus routes, which was further compounded by constantly changing transport network and student eligibility data.
Administering school bus services to around 100,000 eligible school children across the country is no small feat. Over 2,200 school bus routes are utilised twice every school day throughout New Zealand. Planning and maintenance by service agents needs to be completed for every single route, all while complying with policies which determine student eligibility for government-funded transport.
This is a huge undertaking for the Ministry and its service agents. One that was, prior to STRO, completed manually using static information in formats such as spreadsheets, PDFs, screenshots and paper maps.
This process was inconsistent, costly, time-consuming and inefficient. It meant that it wasn’t possible to review routes frequently enough to keep pace with changes in student demographics, nor changes in the transport network that affect bus routes (such as new roads and speed limit changes). The Ministry also identified that some children that should have a bus didn’t, and outdated route records were also incurring unnecessary costs.
“[In the delivery of this project], Critchlow demonstrated the huge
potential of geospatial data and technology in a way that means
the Ministry is now considering how the work can be extended
to further its service provision to the public.”
- Rob Deakin, NZ Spatial Excellence Awards judging panel.
The Ministry recognised that a smarter, less resource intensive approach to route design and maintenance was required. A long-standing supplier to the Ministry for geospatial technology, data and professional services, Critchlow was appointed to build a secure, digital, repeatable business process for the creation and maintenance of school bus routes.
Critchlow integrated the Ministry’s business rules with route optimisation technologies, map rendering, viewing, reporting capability and a number of datasets including NationalMap™ (Critchlow’s comprehensive street-level spatial dataset) to automate three vital tasks:
1. Determine the school transport eligibility for each student;
2. Enable automated design and viewing of optimised bus routes; and
3. Report on the impact of route reviews on key performance indicators such as time, distance travelled and cost.
Employing a variety of secure Ministry datasets such as student addresses, transport entitlement rules and school enrolment zones, STRO can assess student eligibility for transport. NationalMap™ also plays a vital part in the process, enabling the accurate calculation of travel time and distances.
View of an optimised route.
As well as eligibility rules, STRO takes into account complex factors including distance, journey times, speed limits, load capacity of buses, consideration of safety issues (such as availability of safe loading and unloading locations), waiting time and cost.
At the heart of STRO is the spatial viewer that provides a clear display of each route scenario, along with relevant contextual information. The reporting function provides important impact analyses of route reviews that show metrics such as cost per kilometre, cost per student and number of students.
A key output of the STRO solution is a solid framework for testing scenarios to determine the appropriate route based on the transport policy using empirical data. This means the impact of proposed route changes can be assessed and evaluated prior to these changes taking place, cutting down on time and cost. Vehicle and fleet utilisation can also be evaluated and maximised to reduce costs.
The solution can be deployed locally, or provided via a cloud-based user interface, accessed via a secure URL.
"[Critchlow's 2016 New Zealand Spatial Excellence Award] submission “Student Transport Route Optimiser sets a new benchmark for Ministry of Education” presented an exceptional piece of work that has revolutionised the way in which the Ministry assesses and manages school transport provision," says Rob Deakin, one of the judges of the Awards.
"By placing spatial data and intelligence at the heart of the process of route assessment, the project has created huge efficiencies in the processes of route design, optimisation and contract management, creating a $20 million in-year saving and achieving a double digit benefit cost ratio for the Ministry."
The judging panel went on to recognise and congratulate Critchlow "for the delivery of this project, for 'delighting their client', and for demonstrating the huge potential of geospatial data and technology in a way that means the Ministry is now considering how the work can be extended to further improve its service provision to the public."
Bringing together the two critical components of STRO – geospatial data and technology – the Ministry has been able to achieve three key outcomes:
1. The Ministry is able to readily assess which students are eligible for assistance and tailor services to them. They now have empirical data generated through a robust, repeatable process that takes into account the constantly changing population spread and identifies which students are eligible for school transport. This ensures services are tailored to students, which in practice means some routes have been extended to deliver more services where they are needed and shortened where they are not. STRO’s route optimisation technology includes reporting capability, map rendering and viewing.
2. The complex process of route design has been made more efficient. Automated design and viewing of optimised bus routes has demonstrated that a single route review, which formerly took up to four weeks to complete, can now be done by a single person in four hours. This increases the number of reviews that can be done at any one time and, together with the currency of information, gives greater confidence that policy is being applied consistently.
3. STRO offers massive efficiency gains to the Ministry. The optimised combinations of routes designed by STRO have proven more efficient than manually designed routes, meaning the students are transported at less cost to the taxpayer. The additional benefits not initially contemplated include reduced emissions and road infrastructure wear resulting from better designed routes.
“The project was a ‘breath of fresh air’ in how it
has delivered on service agents’ needs.”
- Graeme Bond, Transport Manager, School Support Ltd.