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School Buses That Track Your Child’s Location

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. – New York City is the biggest school district to gear up for an Uber-like GPS-based system that tracks each pupil’s school bus ride, letting parents know where their child is in real time.

Why it matters: For parents, teachers and school administrators, the ability to follow each student’s daily commute adds a layer of safety and peace of mind — and helps all parties adjust plans when there are traffic jams, weather problems or other snarls.

Such a system is already in place in the public schools in San Francisco and Oakland, California, through a company called Zūm. New York City, under contract with another company called Via Transportation, will start phasing in student tracking next fall.These systems reduce the likelihood of a sleeping child being left on a bus, or of children boarding the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong stop.

But “big brother” concerns about children’s privacy have been raised, and labor unions have complained about extra responsibilities placed on their members.
What’s happening: Via, which sells a software-based vehicle tracking system, is equipping New York City’s school buses with the technology necessary to follow each child’s bus trip from start to finish.

With more than 1 million students, NYC’s public school system is the largest in the U.S.
Zūm, a California-based company with an analogous system, got student tracking up and running in Oakland (for 1,500 students) in 2020 and San Francisco (for 3,500 students) this fall.

Each kid gets a QR code (on a printout or a phone) that’s scanned when they get on and off their school bus. Schools and bus operators have consoles that track buses and students in real time. What they’re saying: “The parent has 100% visibility at all time — when is the bus arriving, who is the driver, what kind of checks are done on the driver,” Ritu Narayan, founder and CEO of Zūm, told Axios.

“It is life-changing for people across the board,” she said. “Drivers have full information about the student who is onboarding, whether that student is coming or not coming. Parents feel a true peace of mind  they know when the bus is arriving, how far the bus is.”
“Same for the school district. The console shows them the details of all the buses that are on the route, who are the students on which route. They can see which buses are running late. They can see where all buses are at all times.”

This type of student tracking is long overdue, Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, tells Axios: “You can track your pizza from the moment it leaves the oven, but you can’t track where your bus is.”

Between the lines: Both Via and Zūm aim to save money for school districts using their software and algorithms to map out more efficient bus routes.

NYC spends about $1.4 billion a year on student transportation, Ramot said, and “if the software can save even 1% of the cost of the operations of buses and drivers by having more efficient routes, that’s a very sizable saving.”
New York City school bus drivers were initially skeptical but gained enthusiasm once they learned that the Via system could work to their benefit.

“The driver is often told, ‘Hey you didn’t pick up my kid,’ and the driver says, ‘No, no, I was there,'” Ramot said. “Usually, the driver is right, is the reality.”
The bottom line: Systems like this are likely to spread rapidly across the country. Zūm says it has contracts with 50 large school districts.

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