The Westerville City School District has launched a new "MyVan" transportation service for some district students that is projected to save $1.4 million over three years and enhance the rider experience.

Bob Lynde, director of purchasing and logistics, said Tristar Transportation, a school-bus service, had been providing transportation for some special needs and homeless students for whom a school-bus environment wasn't appropriate.

The district purchased vans and hired drivers to operate 20 routes to take some of that specialized-transportation service in-house through the MyVan program. MyVan consists of a fleet of eight passenger vans owned and operated by the district, with district staff responsible for their maintenance.

As of Aug. 24, the district has 187 students who have been identified as having specialized-transportation needs.

"We currently have 135 students assigned to the MyVan program and 52 have been assigned to Tristar," he said.

Last year Tristar provided services for 215 Westerville students.

"As far as how students are assigned, it is based on the need of the student. Our primary goal is to place them on a school bus. If that is not possible, then we look to place them in the MyVan program," Lynde said.

Sometimes the students' needs are beyond what the district is able to accommodate because of factors such as location and time of day.

"If that is the case, then we set them up with Tristar," he said.

Lynde said the district would be able to "create an opportunity for cost avoidance for the general fund in excess of $1.4 million" over the next three years, thanks to starting its own program.

"However the financial benefit was just the key to launch the program and vision," Lynde said. "Our focus was, however, to provide an unprecedented personal level of service to our students and community, all the way down to the logo."

He said the first two letters of MyVan in the logo create the shape of a heart.

"The drivers (who) were selected and hired for this program are amazing," Lynde said. "Their passion for serving our students and their families is heart-warming."

District Superintendent John Kellogg said this was another opportunity to review the way the district does business and make a decision to save money compared to continuing with the status quo.

"It's not the first time we've examined contracted services and brought them in-house," he said. "We're always looking for way to do things better and more cost-effectively."

In addition to meeting a critical operational need, Kellogg said, the van program expands the capacity of the Transportation Services Department.

"Transportation's leadership in making this program a reality, and doing so in a fairly short time frame, has been exceptional," he said. "From determining the type of vehicle needed, to making the purchase, ensuring vehicles were properly identified, branded, developing routes, and hiring drivers, they've done an incredible job. I know there were many more steps in the overall process, but everyone involved in bringing this program to our district should take pride in what they've accomplished and the valuable service we are now able to provide to our students."

Lynde said the district would be focusing on the students' riding experience as the year gets underway.

"We are investigating the use of tablets, music, fidget items and other items that will either allow for the continuation of their educational day or at a minimum provide a source of entertainment during their ride to and from school each day," he said.