New bus system will drive efficiency in school transport

Mr Wong, chairman of the Singapore School Transport Association, says the School Bus Management System will enable bosses to coach their drivers to be better.
Mr Wong, chairman of the Singapore School Transport Association, says the School Bus Management System will enable bosses to coach their drivers to be better. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Being a school bus operator can be difficult - about 1,000 of 1,500 operators here are one-man operations. The Singapore School Transport Association constantly looks for viable solutions to resolve various challenges faced by the industry. The School Bus Management System is one such solution set to be a game changer.

Amid having to manage rowdy children, anxious parents and schools, it can often seem that driving is the least of worries for a school bus driver.

A new School Bus Management System (SBMS) is set to update the industry with the latest technology, and alleviate much of that stress.

The centralised fleet management and dynamic bus routing system was developed by the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) and Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, a research institute under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

SSTA also received help from Spring Singapore's Lead scheme, and advice from NTUC.

One of SBMS' features is an in-vehicle mobile surveillance system that allows operators to monitor the behaviour of passengers and drivers.

The device can record up to eight different angles - four directed externally to the roads and four internally to the bus. This means bus operators can tell when drivers speed or change lanes abruptly, or engage in other dangerous behaviour.

"Bosses will be able to coach their drivers to be better. With proper and safer driving behaviour, wear and tear and fuel cost can be minimised as well," SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin told The Straits Times.

Other than having handy access to footage in the event of accidents, operators can now more easily resolve issues of student disputes, missing items and thefts on buses.

Other features are automatic student attendance-taking and a notification system which employs radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to send push notifications to parents about their child's location.

Under the system, there are two mobile apps - one for parents and the other for drivers.

In the mornings, parents are notified via the app 10 minutes before the bus gets to their home, giving them ample time to get their child ready. When the child boards the bus, they get another push message, and yet another when the child reaches school. This is thanks to a small RFID tag which the child carries.

After school, parents are again notified when the child has boarded the bus. "So even when parents are overseas, they get notifications on their child's whereabouts," said Mr Wong.

These notifications also help to minimise the number of calls bus drivers get from parents, enabling them to concentrate on driving.

Parents can also use the app to inform drivers if their child is ill and will not be attending school.

For drivers, attendance-taking is now automatic, compared with manual counting previously - as a driver's phone can detect when a child has boarded the bus.

"With this app, the driver can also tell if not all students have alighted from the bus," said SSTA executive secretary Jeremy Ng.

Yet another feature is a smart route planning module that provides operators with data- backed route and driver scheduling recommendations.

This helps to minimise total route length and student walking distance, and also ensures fair distribution of driving load among drivers.

"In the past, drivers would take up to five days to plan a route based on all the student addresses given to them - and they would have to test the route as well. It was all extremely manual, with a board and pins to point out the various locations," said Mr Ng.

Now drivers just have to key in all the addresses and the best possible route is suggested.

Following a successful pilot run with 20 buses in December last year, SSTA is now planning to roll out the SBMS across the school transport sector - targeting 5,000 buses, or at least 90 per cent of the industry, in the next three years.

"The school bus industry has been a manual endeavour for many years. With this system, we hope to give our members better peace of mind, and a change to improve service standards," said Mr Wong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'New bus system will drive efficiency in school transport'. Print Edition | Subscribe