Tight Budgets Result in New Cost Cutting Strategies

Iredell-Statesville Schools Projects Over $350,000 in Transportation Costs Savings

For the second consecutive year, North Carolina school transportation departments are facing state budget cuts and must grapple with the challenge of providing safe transportation for students while reducing operational costs. After lawmakers finalized the state budget at the end of June, the Iredell-Statesville School District (I-SS) was notified to expect a significant reduction in its school transportation budget for the 2010-2011 school year.  Governor Bev Perdue has warned that the 2011-2012 budget year could have even larger revenue shortfalls.

In looking for cost saving strategies, North Carolina school districts have long had powerful tools at their disposal for analyzing school bus routing and scheduling, which are significant factors in transportation budgets.  For nearly two decades, the Transportation Information Management System (TIMS) has been used by all public school districts in the state.  TIMS gives district personnel access to detailed data, based on geographic information systems (GIS) that locate students and bus stops with high levels of accuracy.  TIMS also allows district staff to run simulations of different transportation strategies in order to examine the impact of these potential changes to school bus route time and mileage.

In response to pressure on its transportation budget, I-SS transportation staff began an examination of the distance between student residence and bus stop location for all middle and high school students within the district. TIMS allowed the analysis to include housing developments, subdivisions and small neighborhoods throughout the district.   Using this technique, staff identified a significant number of stops that could be safely eliminated, thereby reducing total bus route mileage.  While some students would be required to walk further to get to their stop, time spent on the bus could often be reduced for all students. 

Through the creation of ‘community stops,’ located near the entrance to many housing developments, I-SS has projected an average daily reduction of 14 miles per day for each of the 160 buses servicing middle and high school students. Through an examination of student-to-stop assignments in TIMS (a measure of the distance between residence and bus stop), it was determined that only 26% of middle and high school students experienced an increase in their stop distance, 67% saw no change and 7% had their stop distance decrease as a result of the new bus stop locations. For the 26% of middle and high school bus riders affected by these changes, the median increase in stop distance was only 0.2 miles.

With the relocation and consolidation  of approximately 500 bus stops, I-SS anticipates saving taxpayers more than $2,000 per day based on the total estimated cost of operating a school bus. Multiply this amount across the 180-day school year and the potential savings total more than $360,000. The chart below highlights the expected taxpayer savings at the school level for I-SS and the Department of Public Instruction.

In discussing the process of simulating these changes using TIMS, Iredell-Statesville Schools TIMS Supervisor Kim Fox explained that the newly created community bus stops will not be implemented on major highways or other busy streets, and parents who have concerns about the location of the new stops should contact their child’s school to request a review.  Fox stated that, “In doing our analysis, TIMS became our key tool as we looked at all our middle and high school bus routes to see where we could safely improve our route efficiency”.  When asked about prioritizing student safety in conjunction with these changes, Fox stated “Our TIMS routing specialists have spent a lot of time creating stop locations that will be both safe for our students and will reduce unnecessary miles and time”.

Other districts in the area are also making changes in their school transportation strategies in reaction to budgetary restrictions.  In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), transportation to magnet schools has been changed to a shuttle stop system this year.  CMS is in the second year of implementing similar policy changes that have resluted in savings of approximately 3 million dollars (Information on changes at CMS).

-- Kevin Hart

Photo by Derek Graham

Iredell-Statesville Schools Press Release

Iredell-Statesville Schools FAQ

Since September 1, 1992 all NC public school districts have implemented the TIMS system.  TIMS is a program of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Implementation, training and technical assistance are provided by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University.