Guest post by Casey Miller

Following widespread school bus delays, the Wake County Public School System is looking to implement a GPS tracking app for school buses in the district, said Cris Mulder, the district’s system family and community engagement director.

“It’s a possibility that is something that is a short and long-term solution,” says Mulder.

Right now, some area schools including Apex Elementary School and Sycamore Creek Elementary School have taken it upon themselves to inform parents of bus arrivals and departures.

Schools in the county have been informing parents of bus arrivals and departures through live tweeting, sending out push notifications, implementing robo-calling systems, and “hanging stuff” on their websites, says Mulder.

While these solutions work well in the district because of the technology savvy demographic of parents in the triangle area, says Mulder, the district wants to find more and better ways to communicate this transportation information to parents. An application called “Where’s My School Bus?” developed by Code for America for Boston Public Schools, may provide a solution.

The app was developed for Boston Public Schools after multiple snowstorms hit the city resulting in an influx of calls from parents seeking school bus information. According to the Code for America website, the app provides parents with access to real-time bus information and the location of each school bus on a detailed map.

“The primary components of Where’s my School Bus are: a GPS tracking system on the bus fleet, the web interface (which is available on both desktop & smartphones), and an administrator who can authorize parents to view individual busses,” says “Where’s My School Bus?” project leader Talin Salway.

While Mulder says that the district is still looking into other possible programs as well, “Where’s My School Bus?” is popular among district parents. A parent of two children in Wake county public schools, Bob Robinson, found out about “Where’s My School Bus?” through a friend’s post on Facebook and then tweeted about what he found to WCPSS. He sees it as a possible solution to the awful communication regarding transportation in the district.

Jason Hibbets, CityCamp Raleigh co-chair and organizer, wrote a blog post praising “Where’s My School Bus?”

“The software platform is available for free and is open source, meaning the license allows users to view the source code and modify/enhance the solution,” says Hibbets.

While he understands that there are many costs associated with the project, he says that people in the development community and CityCamp Raleigh community are willing to get behind the idea and help develop the project. Mulder says that three district parents who are web developers have also reached out to her to help.

Hibbets hopes that a solution like this, beginning in Wake County, could eventually spread state-wide.

“Wake County is primed to be a candidate to deploy the ‘Where’s my school bus?’ app, there are no reasons why surrounding counties couldn’t follow suit,” says Hibbets.

While the district is eager to move forward in improving transportation communication with parents, the cost of installing GPS units in all of the district’s school buses poses the largest roadblock to implementing this system or one like it for WCPSS, say both Mulder and Hibbets.

The district operates 922 school buses serving approximately 75,000 riders through 250 routes with over 25,000 stops. And funding GPS units for the 922 buses is made more difficult because of the decreased transportation budget, says Mulder. Since 2008 the district’s transportation funding had dropped by more than $1 million.

Despite the costs involved, the district sees value in a system like this, says Mulder. The school board is continuing to look into this solution for the current school year or possibly the 2013-2014 school year.

Casey Miller is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and wrote this article for a journalism class. It is posted here with her permission.

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