School Board Considers GPS Technology, Alert Software for Buses

After a tougher than usual winter for bus routing, Business Administrator Peter Curro proposed bus routing software and an alert system that would allow the School District to lay out more efficient bus routes and send notifications to parents of delays.

“This past winter, we encountered many delays due to road conditions, weather and accidents that delayed the arrival of the school bus,” Curro told the School Board at its April 21 meeting. “Technology today allows us to instantly communicate to the parents and alert that some action may be in their best interest when planning for their student pick-up.”

In addition to the bus routing software and alert system, Curro proposed GPS (Global Positioning System) services that would allow bus terminal staff and School District staff to have access to the location of the buses during their routes.

The GPS services would also allow families to track their students’ buses in real time using the SafeStop App, which they would download and subscribe to at their own expense.

“Parents could use this for bad weather days where it’s snowing, or when it’s a little cold and they want to move the student out as they know the bus is coming around the corner,” Curro said.

GPS chips would be installed on the District’s buses, also allowing parents with the app to use the tracking service when their students are headed to and from athletic events and field trips.

Curro said the service would be valuable during inclement weather, mandatory rerouting, breakdowns and accidents.

“If approved, the District is ready to install the GPS chips in a few buses this year to conduct a pilot test of the alert and tracking system,” Curro said. “We intend to have all issues resolved and ready for use before the beginning of school this August. We feel these technologies will provide better communication to parents and provide more efficient routes and practical locations for bus stops for the various grade levels.”

The cost of the bus routing software system is $19,000 in the first year, with an additional annual fee of $4,000. The “Alert” Notification System would cost an additional $1,000 annually, and the GPS hardware and software fleet technology to track the fleet of buses in a live environment would cost the District $5,750 annually.

Parents who wish to utilize the GPS technology would be charged a monthly fee of $4.95 for use of the SafeStop App.

“When we asked about computerizing the routing process and installing GPS services a few years back, the cost was pretty high and we deemed them to be too expensive at that time,” Curro said. “Like any other technology, the cost has come down substantially.”

The cost of the technology in 2012, when the District renewed its contract with Student Transportation of America (STA), was double what it is now, Curro said.

Funding for the new services would come from the Business Office professional services line, which is intended to fund unanticipated studies and services that are related to business activities, according to Curro, who said it would be appropriate to fund the bus routing software for $19,000 in FY15, as the District would need to install the product as soon as possible to test and use it for this summer’s bus routing. The remaining programs and services, if approved, could be funded in FY16.

Chairman Steve Young raised the issue of privacy, noting the Board would definitely have to establish policies related to use of the GPS technology.

“I would imagine we might have parents concerned about being able to track the buses,” he said.

“I’m intrigued by it; my only question would be is the price going to go down next year?” board member John Laferriere asked.

Curro said once the GPS chips are installed on the buses, service fees are annual and the District could choose to stop utilizing any or all of them. The District’s contract with Student Transportation of America expires in 2019.

The Board did not take action on the proposal and plans to discuss the technology further at its May 5 meeting.

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