School board approves GPS tracking system for buses

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board approved a contract with Unite GPS for the Crosswalk K-12 School Transportation Safety Solution for 38 buses for the 2018-2019 school year.
The cost of the total implementation and integration of the Crosswalk system is $7,600 plus a total monthly $950 subscription cost for the software. Transportation funds can pay for the system, Transportation Supervisor Tammy Painter said at the July 31 meeting.
The move will install GPS tracking units on each bus to provide data for route optimization, managing bus stops, automatic mileage reporting, route history information, field trips and athletic events management and real-time live streaming of the locations of every bus in the fleet.
Parent, student app
Parents and students will be able to put an app on their phone to see real time information of their school bus.  It will show the student’s bus route, bus stop and the bus location so they’ll know if a bus is running late, Painter said. School officials said they would let parents know about the app through social media, Facebook, flyers and bus enrollment forms.
Painter said the software will allow her to instantly see if a bus isn’t moving and could be having some kind of difficulty so they can get a mechanic on the way.  It can also help them give directions to substitute drivers that get lost or end up on a route with a bridge with weight restrictions that need to find another route.  Many substitutes only know the roads around where they live, she said.
The Crosswalk system software will also track speed, location and bus times and can send diagnostic codes by text message to the mechanic to alert them to an issue or potential problems. If a bus is overheating, they could prevent major repairs, Painter said.
If a parent calls and says the school bus never came by their home, the software provides real-time information and can immediately answer whether the bus is running late or if the driver did come by that location. If a parent says the bus was 15 minutes late, she’ll know if the bus was broken down or was on time.  Painter noted that most times when she has to track buses, it’s for the driver’s protection.
Board member Eric Lyda expressed concerns about student privacy and where student photos and names of students would be stored with the bus stop check tracking portion of the software.
Painter said they weren’t taking that part of the software package for student tracking or using scan card technology.  No student photos would be going over the internet.  The system will only be tracking buses.
Board member Laura Smith asked if the system had been tested in the county and if there were dead spots.
Painter said that the buses GPS tracking signals are transmitted directly by satellite and there is 100% coverage throughout the county since the system isn’t dependent upon finding cell tower coverage, she said.  Painter said the company sent them units to use for 30 days and there were no dead spots anywhere in the county.
Painter said in a phone call that the Crosswalk K-12 Transportation Safety Solution software does so much and comes with many options. The Fleet View application can pull up all the buses at one time in live data and shows them in motion as little dots with cursors moving on the route.  If a dot doesn’t move for 10 minutes, a bus could be having trouble.
The Bus Stop Manager tool creates bus stops in seconds and assigns students to stops once the routes are done using an address or GPS coordinates.  Painter said the Crosswalk software hooks into the county school WVEIS information system and can assign kids to particular stops.
If buses are overloaded, Painter can preview changes to routes before they’re made and see if students will be on the bus too long. A mileage reporting tool automatically generates reports by category for reimbursements and required state reporting.
Painter said she thought the new GPS bus tracking units and software will make the transportation department be as efficient as possible. Once they get the system up and running she may use other applications.
“It will be a learning experience,” she said.
The process
Painter said the company will install Crosswalk GPS units on their school bus fleet. The company then takes school information to build the routes into their software.  Once that stage is completed, the company will come back and show transportation officials how to use the software.  After that, they’ll train bus drivers and office staff on it.  The GPS tracking system won’t be ready for use for around three months.