Higley Unified School District in Arizona leverages technology to deliver a smarter school bus experience, with instantaneous tracking of bus location and student ridership.

Imagine being able to create a scorecard system in which every bus driver was rated on their safe driving, punctuality and other variables that are essential to their success. And imagine knowing when a driver is faithfully fulfilling their responsibilities and not rushing through a pre-trip checklist that is critical to their job. Or what it means to adopt a flexible fleet tracking system that is powerful enough to deliver the information you need and nimble enough to grow with your district.

All of this—plus a community of well-connected parents, students and educators—is what Josh Crosby and his team at Higley Unified School District has accomplished since enlisting the fleet tracking expertise of Synovia Solutions.

Crosby is the director of transportation for the fast-growing school district, which is facing a host of unique challenges.

Higley Unified School District’s use of technology has expanded rapidly to keep pace with the demand of a growing district. Synovia’s suite of software solutions helps the school bus managers make smarter real-time decisions and keep parents in the loop.

A decade ago, you could count Higley’s school buses on two hands.

Today, the district manages a sprawling bus lot that is filled with more than 70 buses that shuttle the district’s 13,000 students and 6,100 eligible riders to and from its 14 schools and other facilities. California families that are migrating to more affordable Phoenix suburbs have helped fuel Higley’s meteoric growth in the past decade.

“We’re growing like crazy out here, and we’ve relied on technology to help manage our growth and ensure we deliver the type of services our community expects,” Crosby said. “And our community has been enthusiastic about the Synovia services and how they help us manage our bus fleet.”

Higley is like so many other fast-growing towns in suburban America. Located about 30 minutes southeast of downtown Phoenix, Higley has rapidly transformed from a town with a handful of stoplights and a small school district, to a traffic-heavy sprawl of shopping districts, parks and two high schools.

Managing that growth has required the thoughtful deployment of technology, Crosby said.

“I used to be able to drive a few miles to work in 10 minutes. Then we grew and grew and now it’s a 35-minute drive and I recently had to move to be closer to work,” he said. “We realize the same situation was occurring with our school buses and unpredictability was creating frustration for the families we serve.”

A few years ago, Higley moved away from its legacy GPS-powered fleet tracking provider and migrated to Synovia, on the strength of the company’s ability to flex to meet its demands.

“Our previous provider gave us what they gave us, and there wasn’t much room for growth,” Crosby said. “Now I make recommendations about how we can best use the technology and we see it in an updated version a few months later. It’s refreshing to know that we’re listened to.”

While Crosby and his team are busy tracking key performance indicators like excessive idling, speeding or harsh turns to reward his best drivers and coach others, parents and students have become huge fans of the “Here Comes the Bus” mobile app.

Available to parents for free, the app provides real-time GPS-powered school bus tracking, as well as text and email notifications to alert riders and parents when the bus is approaching.

The app captured an Innovation Award from IHS Markit at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, thanks to its intuitive interface and rapid growth to serve more than a million users nationwide.

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“Josh and the team at Higley are what we consider super-users because they take full advantage of our software and hardware technologies to deliver a smarter school bus experience to their community,” said Jon King, CEO of Synovia. “And they’re invaluable to our team in the feedback they provide that helps us design our technology roadmap and innovate for all of our customers. It’s one of those relationships where both sides benefit and we make each other stronger.”

Higley has also deployed the Student Ridership feature that allows students to check-in and off a bus and deliver real-time notifications to parents on their child’s whereabouts.

“It’s not that we’re in an unsafe area or that our parents even knew this sort of technology existed, but once you deploy it you find that 99 percent of the parents absolutely love this additional layer of information,” Crosby said. “It just gives them that extra peace of mind their child is where they are meant to be when they are meant to be there.”

“Everyone wants more information nowadays and they want it right away.“
— Josh Crosby, Transportation Director, Higley Unified School District

Crosby said his team is pleased with the way the software has made their fleet safer and helped them better manage the daily battle to keep the buses running smoothly when drivers call in sick.

He says they still see the occasional speeding issue. “We don’t see anything reckless; mostly just buses going a few miles over the limit,” Crosby said. “We try to be reasonable about what’s acceptable.”

And the turn-by-turn navigation on the tablets has made the job of substitute drivers far less complicated.

“Like every district in this industry, we’re up against a real labor shortage and chronic absenteeism,” Crosby said. “The navigation system provides us another layer of technology that ensures the routes keep getting run the right way, no matter who is behind the wheel. You really can’t put a price tag on what that’s worth to us.”

When fleet managers couple the community-facing solutions like Student Ridership and Here Comes the Bus with the tools that are designed for the administration, like Turn-by-Turn navigation on the tablets and alerts for idling and speeding, they have a powerful tool to save money, enhance service to their community and improve the safety of their fleet.

“We take very seriously the role our customers play in their school districts and in their communities, and we’re excited to see districts like Higley who enthusiastically adopt these technologies and show others the profound difference they can serve in their operations,” King said. “We are hopeful more districts will follow Higley’s example by investing in the full suite of our software and hardware solutions.”