Crossing: Things to Come

The November, 2006 issue of STN will launch a series of articles about the most essential and unique feature of our community and our service: The operation of crossing buses. These articles will certainly acknowledge that a vehicle carrying its own traffic signal is something very unusual and very special. But coming installments will also explore approaches, practices and procedures for designing and operating crossing bus systems at a level-of-detail rarely presented. We will explore these systems not only in terms of safety, but also in terms of liability. We will also explore these systems in terms of their efficiency, security and technology. But mostly, we will examine them in terms of operations.

A preview of this series – “Knowing Your Passengers” – was published in the November, 2005 issue of STN. That installment dealt with the content and use of drivers’ logs. Future installments will explore accident patterns and themes, system design strategies, monitoring and evaluation, driver training, knowledge and perception, driver and attendant assignment, developmental distinctions in crossing ability, stop selection and intersection placement, policies and procedures, and safety and liability. And they will also include lessons from other modes – particularly transit, where the passengers’ “crossing orientation” is the reverse of that employed on schoolbuses. This theme is no mere detail: Incorrect crossing orientation accounts for half the accidents in both modes.

Many installments will examine generic, “composite” models of actual crossing accidents and the lawsuits they triggered. These models will be examined from both from a safety and a liability perspective. Some installments will even explore the unfortunate compromises in safety that occasional pupil transportation systems have made in order to limit liability exposure.

Many articles will also deal with operating approaches and strategies to enhance safety and reduce exposure. These “secrets of safe operations” will include progressive driver assignment, bio-sensitive driver assignment, flexible attendant assignment, and log review. As a result, the examination of techniques for minimizing crossing incidents will also provide insights into more coherent and efficient system design and operations altogether.

Finally, a number of installments will deal with advanced technology, its application, and its promise. Just out of the bottle, many of our new genies have not yet found their mark. But as anyone who knows about genies recognizes, one must give them appropriate tasks. Mark Twain once said, “Only a fool is afraid to put all his marbles in one basket. A wise man puts his marbles in one basket, and watches the basket.” The coming examination of technology and its application will focus on watching the basket – what we should direct these tools to do, and what to do with the information they produce. Applying technology to a system or service will necessarily exaggerate its characteristics. So if one’s operations do not make sense on their own terms, applying technology will only make them worse. To fully realize the vast potential of these tools, our operations must make sense without them.

The approaches to improving our systems’ crossing capabilities will focus largely in two areas: Product development, and changes in policies and procedures. It is my strong belief that the evolution of crossing equipment is incomplete (I am not talking simply about cameras or software). Similarly, while the fundamentals of crossing procedures are widely known and practiced, a large number of practitioners execute them incompletely and/or incorrectly. But a significant number of essential details are rarely considered. These procedures and their nuances will be explored in the installments to come, often in unusual ways.

Members of the pupil transportation community have much to be proud of. But what really sets us apart from other public transportation community is crossing. Crossing is what we do. It is who we are.

Publications: School Transportation News.