Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando schools consider GPS tracking system for buses

BROOKSVILLE — Only three days into the school year, a kindergartner from Brooksville Elementary School walked off his bus at the wrong stop and briefly went missing, triggering a frantic search and sheer panic for his family.

While the boy eventually arrived home safely, the incident resonated with district officials. Shortly afterward, district transportation director Doug Compton and Hernando superintendent Lori Romano met to address what could be done to prevent the mistake from reoccurring.

Turns out, the district already had been investigating one option: student tracking.

At Tuesday afternoon's Hernando County School Board workshop, Compton will present a proposal that would allow the district to track or locate school buses and students in real time, with the help of Global Positioning System devices. The computerized system would also allow parents, through an online portal, to track student ridership; they could receive email alerts when students get on or depart the bus. The program also notifies parents or guardians how far a bus is from a stop, theoretically making pickups and drop-offs more efficient.

"We think that the student tracking piece is vital," Compton said.

How does it work?

Students would each be given a card to carry. They would swipe the card when they got on and off the bus, registering the information and telling the driver if the student is supposed to get on or off at a particular location, Compton said. Bus drivers would be able to manually enter student information if a card stops working.

The cards themselves are not GPS devices and couldn't be tracked; they only tell where and when a student gets on or off the bus.

"We will be able to know immediately if that student is supposed to be on or off the bus," Compton said.

According to Synovia Solutions, the Indianapolis-based company selling the transportation-management package, the district could see which students have boarded or exited a bus, whether they were dropped off at their assigned stops and how many students are on a bus at a certain time.

Synovia chief executive Jon King said the package also provides a layer of security and convenience in inclement weather.

King said his company operates across the United States and Canada and has roughly 450 to 500 customers, which include school districts. There are about a dozen school districts in Florida using Synovia products, including Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Compton said the package will cost $3,500 for the first year of a five-year plan, including roughly $3,000 for cards and $500 for data. During Year 1, there is no cost for the equipment, installation or training, Compton said.

After that, the price goes up substantially.

Compton said that, after the first year, the program will cost $70,000 per year, but the district has the right to terminate it each year without penalty.

He said the first year essentially would function as a test run and give the district answers to some important questions.

"Does it do what it says it does? Does the student tracking work?" Compton asked. "It gives us some real-time data for our district."

He said the price after the first year is high, but if the product works as advertised it might be worth it.

"Student safety is the No. 1 thing for us," he said.

Aside from student and bus tracking, the program offers a number of other features that could make the transportation department run more smoothly and efficiently.

Compton said it provides engine diagnostics while the bus is in use. He said, for example, the devices would send alerts of engine fault codes to the garage, allowing for more timely repairs. It also has a tool that would enable the district to compare the expected route to the actual one, making sure drivers arrive and depart from stops on time and follow the proper path.

King said that transportation officials basically can know how each driver is driving — whether someone is speeding, deploying the stop arm and flashers properly, and whether the driver is on the correct side of the street at a certain stop.

"There's a whole group of areas that … (ensure) the driver is operating the vehicle safely and within the guidelines that have been set out," he said.

Pinellas began using GPS in its school buses about three years ago in an effort to eliminate the district's manual process of comparing planned routes with actual routes, more easily locate a bus and respond more quickly to any situations involving buses.

With the system, Pinellas transportation officials report, they are able to capture excessive bus idling, leading to greater efficiency.

While the system promises a lot, there are critics.

In Hillsborough County, many bus drivers have come forward and complained that the GPS system is unreliable and sometimes is unable to locate buses in times of need.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com.

Hernando schools consider GPS tracking system for buses 08/29/14 [Last modified: Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas sees spike in infant deaths from unsafe sleeping, and advocates are concerned

    Health

    The reports from the Department of Children and Families are tragic: A Pinellas County mother falls asleep on a recliner during an early morning feeding and wakes to find one of her 3-month-old twins unresponsive. Another finds her 6-month-old daughter lying still, a blanket over her head. Another infant is found wedged …

    Advocates are looking to step up their public information efforts this year after reports show a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Pinellas County. [iStockphoto.com]
  2. Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami

    Blogs

    On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

    White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.
  3. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter

    News

    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.

  4. New poll shows tight St. Pete mayor's race

    Blogs

    A new poll shows a tight race between former mayor Rick Baker and Mayor Rick Kriseman, currently engaged in the most expensive mayoral race in St. Petersburg history. 

    Former Mayor Rick Baker answers a question during the mayoral candidate forum at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday. Mayor Rick Kriseman is in the foreground.
  5. Review: Mark Bowden's 'Hue 1968' a gripping, and timely, history

    Books

    More than 40 years after it ended, America's war in Vietnam is still contentious, still misunderstood, and fast slipping into the fog of history.

     On Feb. 15, 1968, U.S. Marines carry out an assault on Dong Ba Tower in Hue, South Vietnam. In the battle for the tower, six men died and 50 were wounded.