District, Birnie Bus near launch of bus tracking app

Published Oct 22, 2018 at 4:00pm

Rome school district parents may soon be able to track their children’s school buses including such data as locations and estimated arrival times, through technology being implemented by the district and Birnie Bus Service.

A parental app including for computers and cell phones may be available by January, following testing and training for the overall system, says district Transportation Supervisor Andy Thompson.

The school district’s three-phase project for its nine directly owned buses involves GPS (global positioning system) technology which is “up and running,” to be followed by linking it to bus route data and software before activating the parental app, Thompson explained. He added the Rome district plans to coordinate its system with similar technology being installed at the Birnie company, which has contracts to transport the majority of the district’s students.

The initiative was noted at a Board of Education meeting earlier this month by school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake, who reported “our nine buses...in the process of installing GPS” devices and also said the Birnie company is working on it as well. He estimated a public rollout in the second semester of the school year.

The school district is receiving state financial aid for the GPS project, said Thompson, while the Birnie company is privately funding its efforts. Systems that are approved by the state Department of Transportation to be on buses directly owned by school districts are eligible for state transportation aid starting with 2015-16 year expenses for 2016-17 aid, Thompson said; the financial aid reimburses the district for the expenses, he explained.

Once the aid became available, the Rome district “started shopping” for systems to make sure the software is appropriately integrated while also working with Birnie Bus, remarked Thompson.

The Birnie company transports about 4,900 Rome district students on its buses, said Thompson. The buses that are owned by the Rome district, meanwhile, transport about 515 students in pre-K plus regular and special education district programs, along with shuttling about 300 district students for BOCES programs in Verona, he added.

The bus-tracking technology hopefully will improve overall efficiencies, plus it will provide “more information for parents,” Thompson commented. Among the system’s capabilities, Thompson noted, will be locating where buses are on their routes in comparison to scheduled bus stop times; determining buses’ speed; determining, if needed in the event of bus-radio problems, whether a bus has broken down.

It can “let me know where a vehicle is at each stop,” observed Thompson.

The parental app, meanwhile, will enable parents to “only see your own” child in terms of tracking buses, and it can support multiple children in one household, Thompson added. For example, parents will be able to see when a bus will “be at their house in the number of minutes” that it will take, he said.

The Rome district’s GPS technology for buses is through the Synovia company, said Thompson.

Among other Central New York school districts, the Baldwinsville district near Syracuse as of Oct. 1 began offering a mobile application. The district said the app allows parents to track their child’s bus with a mobile device, including providing an estimated time that a bus will arrive at a bus stop in the morning and in the afternoon.

The Rome district’s GPS technology is similar to the Baldwinsville system, but uses a different company, Thompson said.