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Birmingham City Schools

“With Samsara, we know who is driving the vehicles and we know their individual safety score.”

Casey Foster, Director of Transportation at Birmingham City Schools

As the fourth-largest school system in the state of Alabama, Birmingham’s large-scale yellow and white fleet uses Samsara to track and improve driver safety, and optimize the efficiency of their maintenance process.

  • Samsara plug-and-play Vehicle Gateways saved the school district months of installation time and gives them the insights they needed in less than half the time of their previous provider. 

  • Driver safety scores enable the district to track driver safety over time to achieve their ambitious safety KPIs. 

  • Electronic DVIRs cut down on the back and forth communication between the shop and drivers so drivers can spend more time on the roads. 

  • Fuel and idle time tracking enable the district to comply with state-mandated idling laws and save money.

Meet Birmingham City Schools 

With over 20,000 students to transport every day, Birmingham City Schools (BCS) is no small operation. Just last school year their 158 school buses and 135-vehicle white fleet traveled over 1.3 million miles. Apart from their massive scale, what really sets BCS apart from other K-12 fleets is their commitment to being data-driven. 

Unique from many other school districts, each department at BCS operates as a business with its own goals and KPIs to improve the quality and safety of their operations. That’s why Casey Foster, Director of Transportation at BCS, set out to find a better telematics solution that would give them more data about their fleet operations and safety. With goals to improve on-time performance and reduce unsafe driving behavior among his drivers, Foster needed a smarter way to track vehicle locations and maintenance, driver safety data, and fuel usage across his yellow and white fleet. That’s where Samsara came in. 

Plug-and-play technology enables a more agile fleet 

Before Foster could focus on safety and efficiency, he needed a telematics partner that could operate at the speed of his growing fleet and provide a level of service up to their standards. That’s why, when BCS’ previous telematics provider took over 5 months to install devices on their new buses, Foster knew there had to be a better solution out there. “Our old provider was nothing like Samsara’s plug-and-play solution,” said Foster. “We were operating buses in the dark.” 

After being dissatisfied with the level of service he was receiving, Foster narrowed his search for a new solution down to three options, including Samsara. Ultimately, the deciding factor was Samsara’s ability to quickly integrate with their growing fleet. 

Tracking driver safety scores to run a safer fleet

Because they’re transporting students from pre-K to grade 12, safety is paramount for Birmingham City Schools. Each school year, Foster sets ambitious safety KPIs for the transportation department in order to improve performance over time and track and celebrate their achievements. To hold his department accountable, Foster compares his fleet’s performance with the benchmarks set by the Council for the Great City Schools

“The driver safety scores are what sealed the deal.”

All of the other telematics options Foster evaluated could only assign a safety score to his vehicles, not employees. With a vehicle-based safety score system, if there’s a substitute on the route with poor driving habits, then the score reflects on the regular driver of the vehicle, negatively impacting their performance. And since drivers often substitute for one another and change buses, tracking vehicles alone does not suffice for Foster’s fleet. With driver-based safety scores, it no longer matters what vehicle they’re in. “It was important to me to be able to narrow the scores down to the employee,” said Foster. “With Samsara, we know who is driving the vehicles and we know their individual safety score.” 

“With Samsara, now we have the quantitative data to show what a fantastic job we’re doing.” 

By tracking driver safety scores, Foster has been able to use this data to change behavior among his drivers. With insights into driver behavior, such as harsh braking and turning, Foster is able to make his drivers more cautious and he’s already seen a positive change. “I’ve had drivers come into my office and ask why their score dropped. Now, I can show them their behavior in person with the Samsara dashboard. That in and of itself has been fantastic,” said Foster. 

Rather than using safety scores to police his drivers, Foster wants to elevate them and celebrate their safety performance. “With Samsara, now we have the quantitative data to show what a fantastic job we’re doing,” said Foster. 

In December 2019, his team of 80 drivers had an overall safety score of 90—and 25% of his drivers had a perfect score of 100. 

Driving data informs impactful driver coaching, training, and rewards program 

When new drivers join the Birmingham City Schools’ transportation department, they are required to complete mandatory safety training before they begin transporting students. In addition to their initial training, each year drivers are required to receive a perfect score on their behind-the-wheel evaluation with one of Foster’s trainers. If they fail to get a perfect score, they’re required to re-do training and their evaluation until they pass. 

Beyond initial training, Foster requires drivers who were found at-fault in accidents to complete two hours of mandatory training on whatever contributed to the accident. Examples of this training include behaviors such as harsh turning or speeding. With the insight into driving behavior that Samsara provides, Foster has been able to streamline the after-accident training process to save time and improve the safety of his fleet.  As of February 2020, BCS’ fleet has driven over 119,500 miles since their last preventable accident, which is more than 1.5x the Council of the Great City Schools’ average

BCS’ fleet has driven over 119,500 miles since their last preventable accident, which is more than 1.5x the Council of the Great City Schools’ average.

To promote safe driving beyond their training programs, Foster looks to the Samsara dashboard to identify opportunities to coach drivers who repeatedly trigger safety events in certain areas. “We’ll bring them in and show them that they’re speeding around this corner and explain why we need them to slow down,” said Foster. Taking the time to coach drivers in person has made a big difference in the attitudes of Foster’s drivers. 

In order to get his drivers more involved in their fleet’s safety goals and reduce driver turnover, Foster set out to create healthy competition among his team. By sharing the safety scores with his entire team and giving drivers access to their own safety information, Foster motivates his drivers to compete against one another to try to improve their behaviors and become the safest driver. “This visibility allows my drivers to self-monitor themselves.” 

“I’ve seen a drastic reduction in driver turnover.”

To sweeten the deal, Foster set up a driver rewards program to further promote safe driving on his team. He created a weighted matrix based on each of his drivers’ attendance, safety score, behind-the-wheel evaluation, and tenure to reward drivers with Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year awards. In the future, Foster is also considering allowing high-performing drivers to bid for favorable routes as a reward for their safe driving. In a few short months, Foster has already noticed the impact of these programs on his drivers, “I’ve seen a drastic reduction in driver turnover.”

Electronic DVIRs speed up the maintenance process  

Before Samsara, Foster’s drivers used state-issued paper logbooks to do their pre- and post-trip inspections. With their old process, drivers would fill out the paper form and if there were maintenance problems they would need to fill out a separate document and physically submit the form. Then, the maintenance shop supervisor would collect them, create work orders for each issue, and divide up the orders to all of their mechanics. “It was a very laborious process,” said Foster. 

Now, each of Foster’s yellow fleet drivers is able to use the Samsara Driver App for both pre- and post-trip inspections. 

Through the Samsara integration with Transfinder—BCS’ maintenance system—electronic DVIRs submitted by drivers now automatically create a work order for the maintenance shop once they’re complete.

“Samsara has greatly affected our ability to communicate maintenance issues in an accurate and efficient way which has helped us save time and money,” said Foster. This new process has also helped cut down on the back and forth communication between the shop and the driver, which has enabled drivers to spend more time driving and vehicles to spend less time in the shop. 

Tracking on-time performance with Planned vs. Actual Reports 

Before Samsara, Birmingham City Schools had no way of tracking the on-time performance of their bus fleet which left them without information on how to improve the speed of their service. In addition, without insight into the real-time locations of his buses, Foster and his team of dispatchers had no way of knowing where buses were in case of breakdowns or whether or not they were consistently delivering students to school on time. 

Through Samsara’s Transfinder integration, Foster is now able to look at Planned vs. Actual reports to track whether or not buses made it to each of their stops on time and ensure they traveled the proper route. With this new information, Foster is confident that he will be able to track and improve his fleet’s on-time performance throughout the coming school year. 

Tracking idle times and miles per gallon to comply with state regulations and save taxpayer money 

In addition to improving his fleet’s safety and on-time performance, Foster is focused on improving his vehicles’ fuel efficiency to comply with state laws and save costs. Because Alabama state law caps idle time to 5 minutes, failure to comply can result in costly fines for his fleet. To avoid fines and comply with the law, Foster leverages the Samsara Idle Time Report to track his drivers’ idle times and fuel usage. 

Birmingham City Schools drivers use fuel cards to purchase fuel. When at the pump, drivers swipe their fuel card, enter their driver ID number and note the odometer number to fill up their tanks. Before Samsara, Foster had to rely solely on drivers to correctly input their numbers but “there was lots of room for user error,” he said. “People would leave digits out or make numbers up if they didn’t remember. 

“If I have a model of buses that average 6 miles per gallon but one driver is averaging 5 miles per gallon on that bus, it could be a few things: driver behavior, vehicle maintenance issue, or fuel theft,” said Foster. Without a way to cross check fuel usage, Foster lacked the insights he needed to determine why certain buses were performing under their average MPG. But with Samsara’s fuel tracking features, Foster can easily keep a pulse on fuel usage in order to determine if his buses are being as effective as they can be. 

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