Maine’s central school districts are turning to evolving bus scanning technology to address driver safety and shortages

READFIELD – Kelly Thompson visited Wayne Elementary School students Thursday to hand out key cards that include their name, photo and barcode for scanning as they board the bus.

At the scan, the card will inform the bus driver who the student is and where to drop them off. In the past, the bus driver would manually feed into the device when a student got on or off the bus. But now that students are using the card, officials say the process is easier and safer.

“Everyone asks when they can use it,” Thompson, the tRegional School Unit Transportation Manager 38.

Wayne Elementary School became the first school in the county to receive their key cards. The county plans to give the key cards to every school in the county, but it does so on a daily basis so Thompson and her staff can give a presentation on what to do.

Kelly Thompson, director of school transportation in the Maranacook area, paired Connor on the left and Reese Chapman with their new bus identification tags Thursday at Wayne Elementary School. Andy Molly / Canback Journal

The technology was originally installed on school buses to locate students during the COVID-19 epidemic, according to Superintendent J. Chart. But eAfter school districts stopped contacting Trace on public transportation, the technology proved to be extremely helpful, especially in the area of ​​student safety and to help solve problems related to the shortage of bus drivers.

“With COVID-19, we really had to find a way to know who was on the bus and for how long and the protocols involved,” Chart said. “We really started looking and saying, ‘It’s related to COVID-19, but what’s the benefits of this system?’ The ability to know who is on the bus, what seat they are sitting in and the ability to know when a student is going to be picked up or dropped off, is a very winning situation and we felt it left everyone involved in the transportation process. “

With an iPad-like device installed on the buses to access the software, school officials and Department of Transportation staff can pull out a report on who rode the bus, when they were on the bus, and how long they were on the bus. Bus – Important factors when establishing close relationships in the case of COVID-19.

Bus driver Emily Weber checks her new transportation computer Thursday at Wayne Elementary School. Andy Molly / Canback Journal

The technology, called Traversa and manufactured by Tyler Technology of Texas Plano, has several different features in addition to student tracking. With the device, bus drivers should do tests before and after the route on the bus and check if there are any maintenance issues. The device will track the speed of the drivers and will only be able to work while the driver is stopping.

It costs Maranacook School District about $ 5,500 a year for the Traversa subscription, according to the expenses outlined in its budget for next year.

Using the student’s key card, the device can know who is on the bus and who is not – if a student is not on the bus that day, the device can redirect and skip the student station. If the device turns again, it will do so only on main roads and will ensure that the child can still get off the bus on the right side of his station.

With the Tyler 360, another sub-section of the technology that RSU 38 will soon develop, parents can see through a smartphone app that their child got on the bus, got off the bus and when the bus is expected to arrive. Transport managers can also alert parents to news about the buses.

According to CJ Vose, Tyler Technology’s sales manager for student transportation, 26,000 customers in more than 48 countries use the bus routing system, which covers about 33% of students nationwide.

Bus ID badges for Wayne Elementary students Connor, left, and Reese Chapman are seen Thursday. Andy Molly / Canback Journal

In the Augusta area, Unit 2 of the Halwell Regional School has already used the system. Transportation Manager Katie Sapir Said at the school council’s business meeting in February that the technology is “huge help” with tracking COVID-19 contact, or if “for some reason someone’s child does not come home.”

The Ministry of Education in Maine has not immediately responded to comments in the past week regarding trends across the country with bus routing technology.

When talk of installing technology on school buses first became an issue in September at RSU 38 School Board meeting, board member Dayan Wing raised concerns about safety and whether anyone could hack into the system or not, or whether parents’ access to the bus. The route can be worrying. Thompson clarified at the meeting that the smartphone app does not allow parents to see the route where the bus is, but rather the time when their student will arrive at their specific stop.

Tyler Technology’s media relations expert Jennifer Kepler detailed the safety of the technology, saying that all incoming and outgoing data from Tyler’s data centers are monitored and documented.

“Tyler’s student transportation solution is provided as a software solution as a service, meaning a district does not have to own, update or maintain computer hardware on site,” she said. “Instead, Tyler hosts the customer’s data in its data centers. … All student data is encrypted in their software solutions and Tyler Drive tablets.”

Vose noted that the technology can also be useful to combat the shortage of bus drivers, as the routes can be changed in real time, depending on who is on the bus. RSU 38 was relatively successful compared to other districts in terms of shortage of bus drivers, but there were cases where they had to change lines, or a bus did not operate.

“It helps to be effective with tracks,” Wes said. “Maybe there is not the same amount of drivers (in the district), or fewer buses, but the same amount of children. It helps to be more efficient with routes, with providing information to drivers who may be new, or if they do not have drivers who know the student’s drop-off locations.”

Bus driver Emily Weber teaches Wayne Elementary students about bus safety on Thursday. Schools in the Maranacook area equip students with identification to skate on their buses. Andy Molly / Canback Journal

Thompson said the kids were well accustomed to using the key cards to scan the bus and they were engaged on Thursday when they received the tickets.

Although the kids were well accustomed to the technology, Thompson said she trained her team “in small steps,” so they were able to take it upon themselves at a pace, rather than all at once. She gave an example of getting into a device one day, then changing the bus route the next day as part of her classes.

“They were reluctant because it’s so new and very different, but they’ve proven that they are the people they are, and it’s pretty amazing and they adopted that,” Thompson said of her drivers. “… they understood the ‘why’, what the ‘why’, and that we had to buy because of the ‘why’, but they all did a good job with an open mind.”

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