District Says ‘No Looking Back’ After Using Artificial Intelligence Routing System in Routefinder PLUS
One day Butch Sargent was contacted by the Jasper Police, telling him about a disturbance in a certain area.
“I don’t want anyone to think Jasper’s unsafe but we had a police problem one afternoon and a whole community was shut down,” recalls Sargent, transportation director at Jasper City School District in Alabama, located about 40 miles northwest of Birmingham. “They called to tell me what blocks to shut down and I was able to reroute those students” in the affected areas.
Routefinder PLUS made the difference because it is so user friendly.
It’s been a baptism by fire for Sargent. First, he contracted COVID in November 2020 and was quarantined for a couple weeks.
“When I came back, I was the transportation director,” Sargent says. That was in addition to his existing duties as director of human resources and operations at Jasper City Schools. He jokes that he was selected by default for transportation director because he’d driven a school bus back when he was in high school.
“It was my worst nightmare when I started,” he recalls, “but it’s probably one of my favorite duties now. It’s not at all depressing. The drivers and I interact well.”
Jasper has about 2,700 students, 900 of whom depend on transportation to and from school each day. The district has 18 routes and 32 drivers, including substitutes.
It was after Sargent took the helm that the district upgraded from Transfinder’s Routefinder Pro routing software to its latest solution, Routefinder PLUS.
“We jumped from Pro to PLUS in one fell swoop and never looked back,” he says. It’s a move he says has paid off for the district in numerous ways. He shares another scenario that’s occurred multiple times.
“The Street Department may call and tell me that a certain street’s going to be closed for the next four weeks. I can close that road [in PLUS] to see how to change routes and it will do it [change the routes] for me.”
Sargent says he was first drawn to PLUS’ ability to give him the big picture.
“I needed to be able to see everything,” Sargent says. “Plus, I needed to be able to see everything from different places. I’m not always in the same place.”
Because Routefinder PLUS is browser-based, users can log in from anywhere, something that has been critical during the pandemic but remains important today.
“We’re able to work from home and we’re able to work on weekends, if needed,” he says. “My biggest joy was being able to do payroll from home and not having to leave my family, not having to leave my kids to come set up here at work all day on a Saturday and half a day on Sunday. It was awful trying to figure out what drivers took what trips, how long they were gone, what pay rate structure they fell into, having to get all that correct. It’s just a piece of cake now. I can do it all through Routefinder and I do it through Formfinder. Tripfinder also helps a great deal with that.”
Sargent notes that Routefinder PLUS is user-friendly and intuitive. With Artificial Intelligence Optimization imbedded in the solution, it has made routing and rerouting much easier and extremely helpful when adapting to the driver shortage, especially with functions like Trip Absorption.
“Before Routefinder we were flying by the seat of our pants trying to figure out how to get more than one route covered with one resource,” Sargent says. “With Routefinder we’re able to go into the navigation system, into the maps, and we’re able to highlight an area that we needed covered. And it tells us how to split the kids so we are able to get them on different buses and still get them home. It gives us the route, the address of the kids and the contact information.”
Sargent says he’s sent the list of students to the various principals in the past who made sure students boarded the correct newly assigned buses when changes were made as a result of drivers being out and no substitute drivers available.
“We had everything settled before the buses ever got there so the only thing the principals had to do was get the kids on the bus,” he says. Sargent notes it’s easy to print out trip sheets for substitute drivers that include turn-by-turn instructions, identifies each stop and which students should be getting on or off at each stop. It also has contact information for parents or guardians.
He said another Transfinder solution has also played a key role in helping the district optimize its operation is Tripfinder. The district rolled it out slowly, first using it “a little bit for our summer school programs.” Today all field trips are scheduled and approved (or denied) using Tripfinder, which he described as “phenomenal.”
“Now it’s the norm—if you want to go to the zoo or if you want to go on a trip anywhere, for any reason, you have to fill that out. There’s absolutely no paper involved at all. The end user requests the trip. The trip goes straight to the nurse. The nurse looks at the list of kids that are going on the trip. They approve it with or without accommodations. It goes straight to the building-level administrator. And then it comes straight to me.”
Sargent said Tripfinder helps him know what resources are available before giving it the final approval.
“I can tell how many buses we’re going to need,” he said. “I can tell what time we need to be there. I can look at the resource scheduler and I can tell what buses are available. I can tell what buses are grounded because of a mechanical issue. I can tell what drivers are free and then I can plan accordingly.”
He's quick to point out that it’s not just him doing this work but his drivers, mechanics and other team members.
“Now I say all this and I say ‘me’ but it’s actually ‘we.’ I could do none of this without the bus drivers. I could do none of this without the mechanics. I could do none of this without the router,” he says.
And Sargent can’t say enough about the value of Formfinder, imbedded in PLUS.
“Formfinder is a lifesaver because I was spending my weekends here (at the office) by hand just to be able to stay afloat,” he says. “I was able to create forms with Formfinder and my bus drivers are now able to do their own payroll on a daily basis from the seat in their bus.”
Formfinder is so user-friendly that Sargent continues to look for additional ways to use the feature.
“We use it for their mileage when they get fuel. They punch in their odometer reading so we can keep track of their miles per gallon, which is a state-required report. We use it for the bus drivers to tell me that they’re requesting leave time. We use it for a lot of different things. Our substitutes use it for their payroll. We just started that.”
Sargent says he’s not done acquiring Transfinder solutions.
“Stopfinder is our next endeavor,” he says, referring to Transfinder’s parent app. “We’re going to try and do it with summer school with six buses rather than turning it all on with the 18 buses. That way I can have a little bit more control over it, get the hiccups worked out of it, and then possibly use it in the fall on the first day.”
Sargent says since taking his role as transportation director he’s come to trust in the Transfinder suite of solutions his district uses because they deliver on their promise.
“A lot of programs are out there that people tried to sell you to make your life easy and in essence they make your life harder,” Sargent says. “This one [PLUS] is one of those that truly makes it easier.”
Sargent said when he has any questions, his first stop is the Transfinder Community, the portal that is filled with how-to videos, guides and other documents.
“I’m able to find the information I need 90 percent of the time [on Transfinder Community]. If I can’t find it, there’s a chat box over there and I can ask a question,” he says. Sometimes, a Transfinder Support Team member actually “logs right into my computer and fixes it for me. I know most of them on a first-name basis.”