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Connectivity and Telematics: The Future of School Buses

What does the future of the school bus industry look like? With telematics, or the transmission of vehicle data back to the fleet manager, the future of pupil transportation lies in connectivity. School buses are becoming more efficient, safer, easier to maintain and less expensive over the total lifecycle of the bus all because of advanced telematics.

And the future isn’t that far off. In fact, enhanced technologies through telematics are here today, and they’re here to stay. In the spring of 2014, Thomas Built Buses introduced Zonar’s V3™ telematics control unit on the Saf-T-Liner® C2 as factory-installed standard equipment, becoming the first school bus manufacturer in the industry to add telematics during production. Today, Thomas Built installs Zonar® on its full line of school buses including the Saf-T-Liner® HDX, Saf-T-Liner® EFX and Minotour®.

“Other bus manufacturers offer telematics as an add-on,” said Caley Edgerly, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses. “But we realize that connectivity and the “connected bus” is the future. So we install Zonar components at no additional cost right here in our factory. In our Saf-T-Liner® C2 school buses, we connect Zonar telematics directly into our proprietary multiplex wiring system. This connectivity enables the system to monitor multiple chassis and body features, providing real-time, actionable data. And, unlike other telematics products, ours can be configured and reconfigured over the air without rewiring.”

Plus, later this year, Thomas Built Buses will debut the new Detroit™ DD5™ and DD8™ diesel engines suited for the Saf-T-Liner® C2 and Saf-T-Liner® HDX, respectively. Both engines will offer best-in-class efficiency, fuel economy, maintenance and emission reductions. Plus, they also will include the Detroit Connect Virtual Technician remote diagnostic system.  This state-of-the-art telematics system will help fleet managers make informed maintenance decisions, so buses are serviced only when necessary. In a real-world application, Virtual Technician, delivers engine diagnostics and in-depth fault code information to fleet managers, so buses are repaired as quickly and accurately as possible, improving uptime and decreasing costs. This advanced form of telematics simply isn’t available for propane, gasoline or compressed natural gas engines.

Increased Visibility Makes School Buses Safer and More Efficient with Lower TCO

The new connected bus isn’t just about enhanced serviceability. Connectivity is now allowing school buses to run more safely and more efficiently, and provides a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). David Benson, director of pupil transportation for Chesapeake Public Schools in Chesapeake, Virginia, believes in the benefits of connectivity for his fleet. He recently purchased Zonar solutions for the 549 school buses in his fleet, the largest in Virginia.

“We needed some sort of telematics system to track the time and attendance of our drivers,” Benson explained. “But after piloting Zonar’s GPS solution, we realized the benefits are much greater than our initial need. Real-time GPS data is key to our routing. Pre-trip and post-trip inspection monitoring ensures we are running an efficient fleet, and the diagnostic tool helps us resolve maintenance issues before they become bigger problems. We are optimistic that the telematics in our fleet will significantly reduce our downtime and help us lower our total cost of ownership.”

The impact of advanced telematics in Chesapeake Public Schools is not unusual. Just one look at Zonar Ground Traffic Control™, the web-based data management software, shows the impact of telematics on the industry.

Ground Traffic Control can be customized by the user to show a variety of real-time alerts, dashboards and reports. Just in the Saf-T-Liner® C2 alone, fleet managers with Zonar can monitor activities such as seat belt use, door opening and closing, wheelchair-lift activation, stop-arm operation and parking brake engagement. And the list goes on to include things such as engine idle time, stop sign and cross gate functionality, maximum road speed, engine fault codes, etc.

Fleet managers can also monitor school bus location, mileage, fuel usage and driver behavior such as speeding, excessive idling, hard acceleration, braking, and cornering. With the new Detroit Connect Virtual Technician remote diagnostic system, even more can monitored.

“We have reached just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what telematics and connectivity can do,” Edgerly said. “Today, we are seeing connectivity on our buses help fleet managers, drivers, dealers and technicians determine safety and maintenance issues before they become larger issues. The impact is significant today, but we expect it to be even more beneficial in the future.”

To learn more about advanced telematics or the innovations on Thomas Built buses, school districts should speak with their local Thomas Built dealer.

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