HomeSpecial ReportsApps Increase Efficiency But Require Due Diligence

Apps Increase Efficiency But Require Due Diligence

There are many schedules to coordinate in a village needed to raise a child. Student ridership verification and bus tracking applications can prove invaluable not only to the parents in providing exact locations of their students and their buses but also in simplifying operations for school districts. Districts and companies weighed in on the benefits of such apps and what to consider when implementing one.

Rick Daynes, a father of five children, became a school bus driver during a driver shortage at his district, Poway Unified School District in Southern California. He spoke on the need for consistency, especially for his children with special needs, and how a student ridership app can provide much-needed scheduling information for a smoother bus pickup.

“When you have a kid melting down or trying to escape plus his little brother and sister, waiting for the bus can seem like an eternity,” he commented. “Kids with special needs are all about routines. Disrupt that routine with an extra wait time or an early bus and the entire day could be shot.”

Daynes said he has texted his child’s school bus driver to ask when the bus would be arriving and added that an app could cut down the back and forth. Anton Q. Lotter, the director of transportation services at Poway, said the district currently uses Zonar ZPass for bus ridership verification on general education routes. However, the technology is not currently implemented for special education routes.

Daynes explained that Poway is still testing an app for the parents, but he believes that the app is absolutely a benefit. “It’s a time issue, a relationship issue, a safety issue,” said Daynes.

Tim Ammon, vice president and general manager of passenger services at Zonar, shared feedback from parents who are using Zonar’s MyView app to track their child’s bus location in real time. One parent at a Kentucky district shared how much the app has simplified her morning routine.

“I [have] three different schools to juggle…it’s a full morning. Like many districts, there’s a driver shortage,” the parent relayed. “The schools tried so hard to [give] us as much information as they could about route and schedule changes, but sometimes there would be a gap in knowledge, and my kids might be waiting and wondering where the bus is. With Zonar MyView, I actually set my phone on my windowsill in the kitchen, and while I’m cleaning up breakfast, I can just watch as the bus moves. I know when each bus is on route so I can send my kids up the driveway. It was seamless. They never missed the bus. They never were waiting very long.”

Craig Beaver, administrator for transportation at Beaverton School District in Oregon, shared that since his district started using the Here Comes the Bus app, a product of CalAmp, “We are finding fewer requests from our drivers to have our dispatchers call a student’s home to have the parent meet the bus on our special needs routes.”

He explained that providing exact bus arrival times have been helpful not only during morning routes to ensure that parents are bringing their students to the bus on time, but it allows them to track the afternoon bus routes, so they know if they need to contact their children in the event they won’t be home in time to meet the bus.

Transfinder’s Stopfinder app is a solution that parents have been asking for, said company Director of Public Relations Rick D’Errico, noting the two-way communication eases the back and forth. “They can track when packages are arriving at their homes. They want even more to know where their children are,” he explained. “As we speak with transportation departments, overwhelmingly we hear that parents are the biggest drivers for the app.”

While the parents are benefitting from easy access to their child’s bus location, the apps are also simultaneously improving student transportation safety and operational efficiency, as demonstrated by the Indian Prairie School District #204 in Illinois.

“We currently route students using [Tyler Student Transportation powered by Traversa] and all our student transportation vehicles are equipped with Tyler Drive [tablet],” explained Ron Johnson, director of support operations at the district’s transportation department. “The goal was to assist our drivers, dispatchers, schools, parents and improve our overall operational efficiency.”

He added that using Tyler Technologies’ tablets onboard school buses allowed the district to use the My Stop app, which then gives parents an estimated time of arrival for the bus that’s arriving at their child’s specific bus stop. “Reducing driver distraction, driver route efficiency, increasing student and parent transportation experiences,” he said of the benefits. “Adding Tyler Drive to your routing and planning operation will increase the safety and reliability of the operation.”

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the February 2024 issue of School Transportation News.

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