Flagler Schools today announced a new online tool for parents who want to keep track of their child’s bus. The district has partnered with a company that’s been in the business of school bus technology for 20 years to apply the free “Here Comes The Bus” app to Flagler County. The app will be live on Monday.
Flagler Schools Transportation Directors Andy West looked at various applications before deciding on “Here Comes The Bus.”
“You can track your child’s location when they’re on the bus,” West said. “You’ll get alerts when the bus is approaching the bus stop, you can look at the location of the bus before it even gets to the bus stop. You can even get push notifications on your phone letting you know if the bus is running late.”
Once the bus delivers all the children aboard, the bus goes off line and is no longer trackable.
“This was in the making long before covid-19,” Jason Wheeler, the district’s spokesman, said. It was piloted through a couple of buses, by parents who work at the district’s transportation department. The app is designed to improve safety and peace of mind for students and parents, reducing unnecessary wait times at bus stops, which have been and continue to be the site of accidents involving children and vehicles across the country. School buses themselves are the safest vehicles on the road.
But as the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration notes, “The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one.” Still, that risk is low. (School bus-related crashes killed 109 people nationwide in 2019, the last year for which numbers are available. Of those, four were school bus passengers, five were school bus drivers, 15 were pedestrians, and 79 were occupants of other vehicles.)
The 56-year-old app is the work of Indianapolis-based Synovia Solutions, acquired by Cal/Amp in 2019. It has some 2.3 million registered users and 500,000 active monthly users, according to company information. “Notifications are sent when the bus is nearby practically eliminating the wait times at the bus stop,” a company fact sheet states. “No need to stand outside for extended periods of time in the pouring rain, freezing cold or wet snow. Parents have peace of mind knowing their child is safe and will get on the right bus, at the right stop, at the right time.” Only one account is needed for families with more than one child riding more than one bus.
Getting the app rolling had been one of Andy Dance’s priorities when he was a school board member. “I pushed hard for it. It was a request from the parent community, it made a lot of sense, and there was other districts that began using it, so we had time to see how it worked in other districts,” Dance said today. He was–and remains–chairman of the Flagler Community Traffic Safety Team, where the app had been discussed. (Dance was elected to the County Commission in November.) He’d spoken with West about the status of the app before making the move to the commission. “They had delays due to the pandemic and he promised it was going to be forthcoming so I’m happy to hear that it’s going out.”
Dance said he will invite West to a future meeting of the Traffic Safety Team for a presentation.
The company states that all communications are encrypted, at least regarding communications between a user’s web browser and the company’s web site. The company is less clear about the app’s privacy on individual cell phones.
The company also provides variations on the app that include such things as student-tracking, contact tracing and meal and homework deliveries. The student-tracking application of the app, called Bus Pass, would require students to scan their ID card as they board and get off a bus. The Flagler district is not using that approach: the app is bus-specific, not student-specific, so if a student were to get on a different bus one particular day, the app would not notice. The Flagler district is also not using CalAmp’s contact-tracing technology, developed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dance described the additional potential uses of the app as “definite benefits, especially with the younger children,” but suggested that financial limitations may make that difficult for the district for now.
In case of a bus substitution and based on the way the app works in other districts, parents would receive a push notification informing them that their regular bus has been substituted with a different one. The notification would normally include the identification number or name of the different bus. The bus would then be tracked as well, but the usual push notifications for its arrival may not be issued.