HCTB Pilot

Bus tracking app for families piloted at Early Childhood, Kindergarten
Posted on 03/07/2023
Here Comes The Bus

The Poplar Bluff School District is piloting its new bus tracking app Here Comes The Bus at the Early Childhood and Kindergarten centers with plans to roll out the parent access tool district-wide for the 2023/24 school year.

The R-I Transportation Department began receiving its initial training followed by webinars shortly after Jon McKinney took the reins as director in July, a software technician position was created thereafter, and the associated hardware continues to be installed as the bus fleet expands.

“This is just a better way to communicate with our parents so they have a sense of security knowing their son or daughter is on the bus and when they get to school,” McKinney explained. “On our end, it should cut down on phone calls, because parents should literally be able to look on their phone and see when and where their child stepped on the bus.”

Under the pilot, parents and guardians of bus riders will soon receive letters in the mail providing instructions for downloading the app or visiting the website, then entering the unique student identification number supplied, and setting the preferred radius for receiving communication via text or email.

Students will scan their district-issued ID when entering and exiting the bus, and drivers will have access to a touchscreen with a name-based ridership module for the lower grade levels. The geofence can be set between 750 feet and two miles eliminating wait times at bus stops, and real-time alerts will automatically be sent to caregivers when students have arrived at school.

The locator has the capacity to refresh every 15 seconds using a single primary address drawn from the district’s student information system. Families of multiple children riding different buses can be tracked simultaneously. Individuals may only sign up for push notifications if they are on the student’s emergency contact list.

The Board of Education approved the acquisition of the fleet management system prior to McKinney’s arrival, selecting Synovia Solutions CalAmp as the low bidder, applying startup dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to “create a more predictable transportation experience for kids and parents,” R-I Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill stated last school year.

According to the proposal, the GPS-based transportation management software supports more of the top 25 largest school transportation systems in the United States than other vendors. The app was launched in 2014 and interfaces with Transfinder, the district’s routing system that has been utilized for several years, along with offering other administrative features.

“Basically we are moving to a time where school buses will have the same navigation system available in cars or Google Maps on your phone, which greatly helps new drivers and substitute drivers not as familiar with the routes,” McKinney continued. “Technology is pushing into this industry, making everything accessible, from arrival time to departure time of buses and the ability to live track them, hopefully making our routes more efficient, safer and consistent.”

The plan is to launch Here Comes The Bus across the entire school system next academic year, after the soft rollout is completed this spring in order to troubleshoot. So far McKinney says “the technology has honestly surpassed our expectations,” and he anticipates that the district’s approximately 2,200 riders on over 200 bus routes built into the database will be fairly accurate in advance of the first day of school.

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