28 Apr

With schools closed, Schenectady bus routing firm defies odds

Transfinder CEO said schools trying to plan for when re-opening happens

From The Albany Times Union
By Larry Rulison
Tuesday, April 28, 2020

SCHENECTADY - Schools across the country are still closed and most aren't planning on opening before the summer begins.

But Schenectady-based Transfinder, which makes bus routing software used by school districts, says it has been fortunate beyond its expectations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're on pace to have one of our biggest quarters the company has ever had," Antonio Civitella, CEO of Transfinder said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "Has it been easy? No. We've been fortunate."

Transfinder's employees have been working from home since mid-March, and so when the company launched its new bus-routing software in early April, Civitella said he didn't know if the product would get a good reception. His sales staff has had to cater their operation to the new coronavirus landscape in order not to offend new customers getting cold calls amid a crisis.

As it turned out, the new product, known as Routefinder PLUS, has been extremely popular amid the coronavirus lockdown, allowing transportation officials to access the web-based software from home. The software is much more powerful as well, giving school districts more confidence that they can adapt to the new realities of the pandemic when schools re-open.

"It's almost a miracle that the (April 6) release date was then," Civitella said. "They recognize this will get me prepared for that next problem."

As a result, Transfinder has had to lift its hiring freeze and has already hired new employees for its Schenectady and Austin, Texas units. The company has 115 employees total with 80 local.

While most local school districts in the Capital Region have not yet ruled out opening before the summer, Civitella isn't so sure they will, noting that school districts in Texas and Ohio and other places have already canceled the current school year.

Civitella said that while district officials in some parts of the country are going back to work, they are mostly dealing with what to plan next - which is uncertain even when they look at the fall.

"So many of our clients in different states have already announced they aren't going back (this school year)," Civitella said. "They're going back to the offices at the end of the week but the schools have decided to remain closed. They've said, 'Why rush it?'"

As for Capital Region school districts, Civitella doesn't know what to expect for the fall, although he can't imagine it will be like it was before. Will there be half days, allowing for smaller classroom sizes? There will probably have to be more buses and more drivers needed to allow for social distancing as well. It's all up in the air, he says, if they can open safely in the fall.

"You know, it's hard to say," Civitella said. "If they do open, it's probably not going to be (like it was). They may open, but there are going to be some changes. Some may be extreme."

Planning for that is why Transfinder's new software has been so popular, Civitella said.

Civitella himself is also in no rush to bring his employees back into the office as the state starts planning when it will allow companies to re-open as coronavirus hospitalizations and infections fall.

"We're going to go back when it makes sense to go back," Civitella said.

Civitella said Transfinder has become a better company amid the stay-at-home order from the state. Employees have adapted along with the company, which has vastly improved its communication abilities since employees were sent home with their computers and other supplies on March 13.

Civitella didn't know what to expect at the time - or whether the company would adapt or not.

"We are truly a stronger company than when we went into this crisis," Civitella said. "We are blessed.