Walton County School District says critical tool to deal with the driver shortage is Transfinder’s Routefinder
Dennis Grey has seen his share of challenges as transportation director at Walton County School District in Florida. He lost 10 employees who passed away since he started six years ago, two due to COVID, and has seen a drop in the number of drivers from 102 to just over 60 today.
Meanwhile, the district is transporting more students than ever, 5,700, about 200 more than it was pre-pandemic.
And yet school has never shut down because of lack of transportation. Grey credits his crackerjack team’s use of Transfinder’s routing software Routefinder for success in the midst of challenging circumstances.
“Routefinder has been so important to us – critical!” Grey says. “It’s been critical for us to be able to make adjustments on the fly.”
He says that with Routefinder, the district can look at both historical data, carry over information from year to year, and easily make adjustments when facing changes, such as new housing developments popping up. Grey notes that Walton County is one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
But demographics can ebb and flow and Routefinder helps Grey’s team visualize routes, track ridership and adjust to where the demand is. Walton County, located in Florida’s panhandle, has a mix of rural and city regions, sandy beaches along the Gulf Coast and Point Washington State Forest. The makeup of the district is also unique with seven elementary schools, three middle schools, five high schools, two charter schools, a K-12 school and three alternative learning sites.
“Our county is very unique,” Grey says. “We have four distinct characteristics of transportation in one county and so it makes for a unique experience.”
Coupled with those characteristics is the driver shortage that has hit Walton County particularly hard. Grey has utilized a unique approach to getting the most out of the resources he has on hand. Drivers transport students to various schools in what he calls waves. “We do some creative lineups,” he says. “By the time all the other buses have come through and loaded, our ‘waves’ have returned and get at the end of the line for reloading.”
Routefinder is key to pulling it off by providing his team with information such as how much time is needed for each wave.
Grey leans heavily on Route Manager Brenda Baker, who is in Routefinder the most. Baker was using Transfinder’s Routefinder software three years before Grey’s arrival.
“I ask a lot of questions and she’s able to get into Routefinder and answer those for me. I’ll be like, ‘How far is it?’ when discussing certain routes or changes. ‘Can we split a route here?’ ‘Can we make these combinations?’” Grey says, noting: “We’ve had to absorb a lot of routes and make them into one route. We’ve relied on Routefinder to answer those questions. We really lean on the expertise of the Routefinder program.”
In fact, the district has reduced the number of daily trips from 350 to 176 by using Routefinder. Besides Routefinder, the district uses Transfinder’s Servicefinder for inventory management, and Infofinder i to keep parents and guardians up to date on bus route and bus stop information. And Professional Services conducted a Bell Time study.
“Transfinder is almost like a brotherhood,” Grey says. “They are not sitting on their laurels or just trying to maintain a current product. They’re trying to make their products better but they’re also trying to make your job easier, more efficient.”
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