School Bus Transparency, Communication Apps Gain in Popularity

Technology that provides information between all the users and stakeholders of bus transportation is in demand and emerging.

For parents of children who ride a school bus in any of the districts within Stark County near Canton, Ohio, knowing the whereabouts of their children's bus just got easier. 

The Alliance City School District has 22 buses already wired with a GPS system. Parents may register and download a corresponding app, "Here Comes The Bus." It is available at no charge, as the school district has already paid the bill to make the application available to its school bus customers. Parents and students can see where the bus is and  even choose a radius of up to 500 feet around their home so they may receive an automatic alert when the bus is near. 

Convenience and Transparency
Alliance City School District, like many others districts nationwide, seeks solutions that provide transparency and convenience. This is not only for the parents and student, but also for transportation directors, school staff, bus drivers. Transportation department employees are already overburdened with inquiries and requests from concerned parents wanting to know where their child's bus is. If it's late, or even early, parents may call the school. Someone has to take his or her call and respond in kind. With a GPS enabled app, the call is no longer necessary.

For Synovia Solutions, maker of the "Here Comes the Bus" app, technology performs double duty. For parents, it gives a welcome peace of mind by knowing their child's precise whereabouts, and how long they have each morning before the bus arrives. It provides efficiency and economy for school administrators, who can save on both time and money.

"With budget cuts and driver shortages, districts need to become more efficient and identify ways to save money," commented Elizabeth James, director of product strategy at Synovia Solutions. She said the company’s GPS software platform offers several ways districts to reduce costs while improving student safety and parent communication. "The Here Comes the Bus app was designed to help keep students safe, provide parents extra peace of mind, and give school districts an opportunity to offer a free service and improve communication with parents," she added.

Like Synovia's app, the Treker app informs parents and school officials the students’ whereabouts on the bus. In conjunction with the app, students receive a personal Treker RFID card or tag. Schools that prefer to scan a QR or barcode may also use them for campus entry, the cafeteria or the library. Students are checked on or off the bus when the Treker Driver App recognizes their Treker card (or other entry method. The bus driver can also manually input the data.

Fewer Phone Calls, More Accountability 

When parents are at ease, phones ring less at the school. Now school staff can focus on other matters, be more efficient, save time and ultimately reduce spending. Schools districts using Treker said they have seen a drop in the number of calls regarding student and bus locations and status, as parents can now see this information themselves on the Treker app," said Jim Berger, an advisor to Treker and the app’s acting chief operating officer. "The time spent resolving calls from parents or school front offices has also decreased, since administrators can quickly search and find the real-time status of a student or bus as well as review any historical trip details."

Increased communications between drivers and transportation directors are also improved with the right technology. 

Patrick Gallagher is the director of sales at SafeStop, Inc, which also makes software that works in conjunction with downloadable apps for bus accountability and transparency. "The result is that when a transportation department does the little things to ensure the information placed in the app is accurate, they can decrease parent phone calls up to 90 percent," said Gallagher. “They can quickly find areas where operations can improve, and they increase communication between parents and all departments at the school or district."

The capability to not only track drivers, but to communicate with them is creating the demand that pdvWireless caters to. The company’s technology platform provides "push-to-talk" two-way radio technology for school districts like the LoveJoy Independent School District in Dallas. Bruce Lee, product manager for pdvWireless, said the platform is migrating to a tablet-based application where a wireless network is used to enable "radio-over-internet."  

The technology not only offers voice commnications but also builds in location built via GPS, allowing transportation departments to provide transparency on where a bus is and also speak directly to the driver. This is ideal for receiving first-hand facts in the event of traffic issues, to communicate arrival and departure information, and to inform of any safety incidents on and off the bus.  
Though pdvWireless's technology isn't using an app just yet, its technology helps school staff to communicate along with the transparency and accountability it offers.  

Different Stakeholders with Common Interests

Drivers, parents and transportation directors are all different stakeholders in morning and afternoon bus service. However, they all have a common interest in transparency and visibility of the “who, where, what and when” of those rides. Students also want to know where their bus is, and some companies find that students also use their apps. In Carmel, Indiana, one school administration official said that student users seem to outnumber parent users in using Synovia's "Here Comes The Bus" app.

Because there are numerous stakeholders UbicaBus makes three apps that target the needs and concerns of three different groups: Administrators, drivers, and parents.  

For administrators, the app provides a mobile-friendly glimpse of the same information provided though their web portal. Transportation directors can check and manage everything from bus location to student attendance wherever they may happen to be.

For drivers a specific app serves as an alternate GPS tracking device. It provides directions for drivers, attendance information and current traffic patterns, as well  as alternate routes that are available. 

For parents, the app serves the same purpose as many of its competitors. It allows parents to have real-time visibility into the location of the bus and, in some cases, student attendance.

For all stakeholders in school transportation wireless technology and digital mobile apps are emerging. There are more suppliers, and a growing number of users in many places who seek the value it brings.  

Everyone, it seems, needs to know, "Where's the bus?” As an administrator in Carmel, Indiana said regarding the adoption of the "Here Comes the Bus" app, there are "millions of reasons” you might want to know where the bus is and when it’s going to get back. The rise of smart technology is providing answers to such questions.

Reprinted from the June 2017 issue of School Transportation News.

Last modified onThursday, 15 June 2017 12:29