Mobile County Public Schools Drive to Help Keep Students Safe with Mobility Solution
We needed to add a true GPS tracking solution to the toolbox to make sure that our children are safe every day."
- Pat Mitchell, Transportation Coordinator, Mobile County Public School System
Improved student safety, increased accountability for school bus drivers who travel 42,000 miles each day across Alabama’s largest school district
GPS tracking solution monitors bus speeds, provides real-time locations and verifies that drivers follow assigned routes
Reduced fuel costs, better enforcement of safety practices, peace of mind for parents and school officials
$775 million annual budget
About Mobile County Public Schools
Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) has an enrollment of 63,000 students, making it the largest school system in Alabama and the 56th largest in the U.S. The system comprises more than 100 public school buildings, including 51 elementary schools, 17 middle schools, 13 high schools, five magnet schools, three special schools and two career technical schools. Mobile County Schools’ employees work collaboratively with a mission of graduating citizens who are “literate, responsible and committed to learning over a lifetime.”
Mobile County transports more than 26,000 students to and from its schools, using 730 buses that travel 42,000 miles each day across rural, urban and suburban communities. Officials wanted to know the location of each bus to enable them to inform parents and school principals of delays and to ensure the safe transport of students. Officials also needed a way to monitor the buses to verify that drivers completed their duties on time, at safe speeds and with the most efficient routes. Drivers who speed can endanger their passengers, and those who stray from their assigned routes can significantly increase costs for the school system, which buys more than 1.4 million gallons of fuel a year.
Actsoft® from AT&T is a GPS-enabled mobile resource management solution that lets Mobile County enhance student safety by monitoring the speed and location of all its buses in real time. This mobile application makes it easier for school officials to see that drivers adhere to traffic laws and school policies. The solution helps direct drivers away from accidents to keep the buses on schedule. It also helps reduce costs by confirming that drivers have taken the most efficient routes. Finally, having the ability to locate every bus at any moment of the day provides peace of mind for school officials and parents.
Whenever you’re dealing with a challenge of this magnitude, you do your best by staying ahead of the game and using all the resources available.”
Mobile County, along the shores of Mobile Bay, offers visitors the same beautiful waterways, fresh seafood and Southern hospitality of many of its better-known Gulf Coast neighbors. The county, which hosts America’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration, celebrates its bicentennial this year. It was originally home to the Choctaw and other indigenous peoples for thousands of years before it was settled by the French in the early 18th century and later by the British and Spanish. It officially became a county in 1812 as part of the Mississippi Territory and five years later became part of Alabama.
The economy is strong in Mobile County, which Forbes.com named the Number One Small Metro Area for economic growth and Entrepreneur Magazine recognized as the best mid-size U.S. market for starting and growing a business. The majority of county residents work in education, healthcare, finance, manufacturing or transportation. The Mobile County Public School System, with an annual budget of $775 million and 8,500 employees, is by far the area’s largest employer.
School Superintendent Martha L. Peek is a third-generation Mobile County educator who worked her way up through the school system, serving as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent before assuming the county’s top education job. From her office and through the ranks of principals, teachers, administrators and staff, it’s clear that putting children first is a school system priority.
Protecting Precious Cargo
The mission of ensuring student welfare extends to the school system’s Transportation Department, responsible for getting an average of over 26,000 students to and from school each day. Transportation Coordinator Pat Mitchell said the department’s 800 drivers, mechanics and administrators are as invested as teachers in students’ success. “Everyone in this district is passionate about what they do, and we try to make sure we provide the best for our students,” he said.
The department’s bus drivers travel an incredible 7.5 million miles every school year across the county’s 1,644 square miles. “Making sure that our precious cargo gets to and from school safely every day is the most challenging part of the job,” he said. “Whenever you’re dealing with a challenge of this magnitude, you do your best by staying ahead of the game and using all the resources available.”
A former police officer and deputy police chief, Mitchell is proactive when it comes to keeping students safe, often using lessons he learned as a street cop in his role with Mobile County schools. “In law enforcement there are always new ways of trying to catch the bad guy and new tools to help you do a better job,” he said. “I’ve adopted that same philosophy to help Transportation.”
For instance, Mitchell wanted to find a better way to respond to parents who occasionally call the school system to find out why their child hasn’t arrived home on time. “We wanted to be able to just punch in a bus number and learn where that bus is and whether it made the child’s stop,” he said. Most of these calls involve kids who arrived safely at their bus stop and went to a friend’s house without telling their parents, he said. “I also wanted to make sure that we had good communication with all our drivers because we never want any of them to be in a situation where they cannot reach us or vice versa.”
Mobile County introduced a routing solution to make it easier to locate each school bus, but it didn’t provide everything the department required. “We needed to add a true GPS tracking solution to the toolbox to make sure that our children are safe every day,” he said.
Safety, Accountability, Performance
As a policeman, Mitchell drove cruisers equipped with automatic vehicle location tools that showed dispatchers each car’s location and monitored its speed. “It dawned on me that we could use the same thing for buses,” he said. After a four-month pilot program in which the school system tested several solutions, Mobile County chose Actsoft from AT&T to enable real-time bus tracking. “It was the best fit for what we were trying to accomplish,” Mitchell said, “and seemed to be more capable of helping us meet our goals without any hidden costs.”
Mobile County equipped buses with rugged, military-grade cellphones that drivers use to log in at the start of every shift. As the district integrates the tracking solution with its payroll processes, the cell phone clock-in will eliminate the need to punch in on a separate time clock. In case of emergency, drivers can pull over and use the phones, which are programmed with one-button access to police, firefighters and EMTs.
The solution includes vehicle mapping and geo-fencing capabilities to further improve student and driver safety. “It provides accountability,” Mitchell said. “We like knowing where our children, drivers, and buses are at all times.” The county’s six route supervisors can access the county’s Actsoft dashboard from their office computers to see all buses in real time, or use mobile devices if they’re out in the field.
Actsoft from AT&T makes it easy to tell parents the exact location of every bus and what time it made each stop. It also lets route supervisors receive alerts if a driver exceeds a certain speed or deviates from a designated route, and generate detailed reports of each driver’s on-the-job performance. Knowing where each bus is at any given time of any day makes it easier for the district to investigate allegations of speeding and to answer claims that a bus damaged another vehicle.
Fewer Citizen Complaints
Since the county began using Actsoft from AT&T, citizen reports of speeding buses or seeing buses in unusual places have dropped dramatically. “Having this tool on the bus decreases the number of complaints we get in terms of a bus exceeding the speed limit or going somewhere it shouldn’t be,” he said. Spending less time looking into complaints means route supervisors have more time to fulfill their core responsibilities.
If a bus is delayed because of traffic or bad weather, the solution enables the district to notify schools. It also lets officials inform parents of special needs students, so children who may have health issues don’t have to wait outside in extreme cold or heat for a bus delayed because of road conditions or another vehicle’s accident.
Mobile County expects the tracking solution to increase efficiency and save money for the school system by eliminating unnecessary miles. “When you have a bunch of deadhead, or unnecessary miles in a certain area, it costs you in terms of fuel, and we all know fuel is very expensive,” he said. “If we utilize all of the components of AT&T solutions, I believe we may be able to save the district money.”
The AT&T Difference
Mitchell chose Actsoft from AT&T over other tracking solutions in part because of his positive history with AT&T. “On a personal level I’ve been an AT&T customer for a long time because AT&T is just reliable and the coverage is good,” he said.
Professionally, he said, he relied on AT&T in his last position, when he served as city manager in a nearby community. “I dealt with many different phone carriers and they never could truly meet all of our needs,” Mitchell said. “AT&T just proved to be the winner. They play by the rules and they’re very accommodating.”
He also respects the professionalism of the AT&T account team and their understanding of customers’ needs. “Our account team has always been very accessible and knowledgeable,” he said. Most recently, Mitchell followed his AT&T account team’s recommendation of using ruggedized phones as part of the tracking solution. The suggestion proved so useful that the school district also purchased the phones for its mechanics and foremen, who have been known to be hard on their cell phones. “I’ve seen them drop these phones and they continue to work on,” he said.
He also appreciates the interoperability of the solutions from AT&T. “When we began to implement the tracking component, the AT&T system was able to talk to all our other systems, which was something that other carriers’ solutions could not do,” he said.
Mitchell said he strongly recommends Actsoft from AT&T to other school districts. Taking advantage of technology requires an upfront investment, he said, but can save money in the long run. “At the end of the day, it’s all about safety and this is another tool that we have added to our toolbox to make sure that our precious cargo is safe every day.”
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