By next fall, parents and guardians of Katy ISD students will be able to track their children’s school buses.
The KISD board of trustees approved a three-year, $607,680 contract with Education Logistics Inc., or Edulog, on Feb. 25 to install GPS and diagnostic software on 425 buses. The technology will also allow the district to collect bus data to improve safety and efficiency.
Through a free mobile phone application, KISD parents and guardians will not only be able to see where their children’s buses are located during transit, but they will also be able to set up notifications for when a specific bus reaches a certain distance from the school or home, Assistant Superintendent for Operations Ted Vierling said at the Feb. 18 work-study board meeting.
If a parent wants to know where a bus is under the existing technology, he or she calls the district, and KISD radios all bus drivers to learn a specific bus’s location, Vierling said.
“And when you call on the radio, you’re calling every bus,” he said. “There’s folks talking over each other. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate.”
KISD parent Anoop Rathod sees the technology as a positive change. He and his wife have a son in high school and a daughter in elementary school.
“I do support that thing to have a GPS on the buses, but my biggest reason is that I can track the kids,” he said. “It will give us peace of mind.”
Vierling stressed the technology will not track the students, just the buses. For example, the app will tell parents if their child’s bus arrived late to a stop, but it will not tell parents if their child got off the bus. He added the district will not share student data to any person other than students’ parents or guardians, but they can give out the information to others, such as grandparents, babysitters or other caretakers.
KISD installed the systems March 11-15 and selected Bethke, Wilson and Franz elementary schools for the pilot program, Media Relations and Multimedia Manager Maria DiPetta said in an email. A full rollout is planned for the fall, Vierlings said.
Driving for data
In addition to the parent app, the technology will also provide data to KISD to help it improve safety and bus routes, Vierling said.
“We struggle with some routes and some [bus]times; that is not news,” he said. “It’ll provide detailed information on everything from location stops, driving speed [and]route efficiency.”
KISD will be able to check to see if buses are speeding, taking the correct route and halting for a sufficient period of time at bus stops, he said.
Cy-Fair ISD installed GPS and related software in its bus fleet in summer 2015, and it has used the data to improve transportation efficiency, said Leslie Francis, the assistant superintendent for communication and community relations for CFISD, in an email.
“We can see the planned versus the actual route buses take, which can assist us in ensuring efficiency,” she said. “The GPS system also provides us with idling and fuel consumption data, which allows us to identify those areas where we can decrease fuel consumption for more savings.”
One of the biggest challenges with implementing the technology involved training, she said. Vierling also noted rolling out the GPS, parent app and related software will be a learning curve for both parents and the district.
KISD plans to create a web page with instructions for parents and guardians on how to download the app and use it, Vierling said. He added Edulog has helped other districts answer parents’ questions through a call center.
“Obviously, we know there’s going to be challenges,” Vierling said. “We feel like the benefits will far outweigh the negatives.”