By Kyle Roberts
Since taking the job as transportation supervisor for the Lincoln Parish School Board, Doc Hoefler has had two priorities: bus rider safety and shortening the time of students on the bus, both to and from school everyday.
Originally a football coach for the Ruston Bearcats, Hoefler has been in his role since the summer of 2022, committing himself to knowing nearly every road that the parish bus drivers are traveling every day in efforts to take care of the students of Lincoln Parish on a wider scale.
“I do miss the coaching aspect of building relationships,” Hoefler said. “But now, I get to take care of students in a much larger footprint than before. I want to take care of students the same way I was taken care of when I was in school here.”
Now, after partnering with a group of industrial engineering students and staff from Louisiana Tech and help from the Lincoln Parish Geographic Information System, Hoefler will be able to achieve both of those goals for the 2023 school year as students zoned for schools inside the Ruston city limits will soon utilize bus stops rather than buses making individual stops at every home.
A message from the school board is planned to go out early next week with more information for parents and guardians of children attending schools that are located in the Ruston city limits.
“This has been a goal of mine since day one from (LPSB superintendent) Ricky Durrett and (assistant superintendent) John Young,” Hoefler said at the July school board meeting. “Finding a way to shorten the time of kids on the school bus.
“We have wanted to do that for a long time.”
All of this began with a conversation with Hoefler’s wife Brooke, also an educator in Lincoln Parish, which then led to Dr. Jason Howell, an industrial engineering lecturer at Tech. Howell and a team of Tech students then took up the challenge to see if the College of Engineering could help.
“Industrial engineers love looking at processes and making them better, more efficient, and optimizing things,” Howell said. “We were given the task of reducing ride time for the students. They felt like they had some routes that were going longer than they wanted them to be. Once we started looking into it, we realized the routes themselves were efficient, but that didn’t solve the problem for less time on the bus.
“And we pretty quickly realized that these bus stops were going to be the thing that made a difference.”
Howell’s crew consisted of Wesley Brady, Hayden Scaff, Kosi Anadi and Ricardo Auerbach. They were given firm parameters, primarily around the safety of the kids, ensuring that dangerous street crossings were eliminated before the plan could begin formulation.
As an extra measure of safety, students will not be required to walk more than .2 miles to get to a location (roughly the size of two blocks). Times shown on the clickable maps mean that the bus will be there within five minutes prior or after.
“We started seeing that buses were going down roads and stopping individually at each house,” Howell said. “We’ve got streets in neighborhoods where the bus is making a stop a four to six houses on that street. Now we make that one stop, and it’s a short walk for the kids. They are not crossing the street, but it takes us from four stops to just one, for example.
“We think this is a good solution for them. It reduces mainly the time those kids spend on the bus, gets them home a little early, and hopefully, this makes that experience better for them.”
The overall work of the group was so impressive that after the students won an award in the technical paper competition at the 2023 Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers conference in New Orleans.
“We were really proud of them,” Howell said of the student group.
Along with the engineering crew, Jackson Matthews with Lincoln Parish’s GIS office was also brought on to serve as the expert on the roads and crossings for the parish.
“Primarily, in the past, we’ve kept a database of the school bus routes and provided a map application that displays the routes for the drivers and school board employees,” Matthews said. “We use software called ESRI, which stands for Environmental Systems Research Institute, and they have the chief marketshare of all GIS software on the ground.
“This allowed us to create a website where parents can type in the home address, and it’ll automatically zoom to that address, and it’ll tell you what bus you should be on and approximately what time the bus will be there.”
Also of note, due to sparse population in some of the more rural regions of Lincoln Parish, some students will still be picked up individually at home as opposed to bus stops.
The bus stops will also not be utilized for students zoned for Simsboro, Choudrant, or Dubach public schools.
One of the biggest issues Hoefler recognizes is the need for a complete update of demographic information into the system of students that are planning to ride the bus. Bus drivers in the parish are working with old and out-dated information, so Hoefler is encouraging parents to access the new website in order to add updated information about kids that need to be on the school buses.
“Having updated information will be a big priority to make sure everything is running the way it is supposed to,” Hoefler concluded.