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Elizabeth James

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THREE SCHOOL BUS SAFETY TRENDS WE’RE SEEING IN THE 2015-16 SCHOOL YEAR

Posted by Elizabeth James on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 @ 10:07 AM

School bus safety is always top of mind for parents, bus drivers, and administrators alike. It’s thschool bus safetye same way for us at Synovia Solutions as well. We’ve identified three trends in school bus safety that have dominated the first half of the 2015-16 school year. Let’s take a look at what’s happening – and how your school district could be affected.

THREE POINTS FOR SAFETY

In November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officially endorsed and recommended three-point safety belts for all school buses. In the past, the NHTSA has maintained that belt-less buses were safe, and acknowledged that retrofitting buses with belts would be costly. Their stance has now changed.

"The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives," said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind. "That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA's policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt."

Any rulemaking effort from the NHTSA will face opposition, though. Adding seat belts to buses is an expensive endeavor. It can cost around $500 per seat on a full-size bus, meaning a total cost between $7,000 and $15,000 per bus in many cases. When school districts around the country are already strapped for cash, that investment simply may not be feasible.

The fact remains that seat belts save lives, though, and some states and school districts are moving forward despite the cost. The Rhode Island general assembly will consider a bill in its next session that would require all new bus purchases to include seat belts. The Houston Independent School District has already implemented the same requirement. In both cases the rule applies only to new buses, meaning that older buses will not be retrofitted with belts. This will increase the cost of new buses, but the burden on districts will be lighter than if older buses were also required to have belts. This is likely the safest, easiest, and most cost-effective way forward.

SHOWING NEW DRIVERS THE ROPES

School districts nationwide are having issues finding, hiring, and keeping good bus drivers. Only six percent of contracting companies this year reported that they had enough drivers (down from 15 percent just last year). This is partly because the economy is stronger than in recent years, so fewer people are seeking part-time work. This shortage is also due to heavy regulation of drivers.

The strict requirements to become a driver are necessary to keep students, as well as everyone else on the road, safe; however, these stipulations can deter people from pursuing a bus driver position. As a result, many districts are desperate for new drivers. From Minnesota to Colorado to Virginia, school districts are creatively recruiting new drivers to minimize the shortage.

It’s critical, though, that standards and training are not sacrificed in an effort to fill out a driver roster. In fact, the desperation to find drivers makes training even more important, and it’s something no district can skimp on. When a new driver isn’t properly trained, it can cause major problems.

Due to this, districts are using newer and more modern training methods to give drivers experience in a variety of situations. Advanced simulators give drivers hands-on experience in maneuvers that they may not typically encounter. They also provide a safe situation for practicing more complex training exercises, without having to worry about damage to a bus or equipment. This way an inexperienced driver can safely and quickly become proficient before he picks up a single child.

Part of that training is learning routes, and that can’t be done in a simulator. It’s important for managers to be able to monitor routes to make sure drivers are hitting their stops and driving efficiently. A tool like Synovia’s Comparative Analysis compares planned routes to actual routes using GPS tracking data. This information can be used to show new drivers where they’re going wrong, and how they can improve. If someone’s routinely missing a turn or taking the long way, they may not even know – and information is key.

KEEPING WATCH

Internal cameras have been popular for years as a way to help with discipline, both for riders and drivers. Any incident that happens on a bus is recorded and can be dealt with in an objective manner. Many districts are also adding external cameras to deal with a growing issue – other drivers ignoring bus stop arms.

According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, 70,000 vehicles illegally pass stopped school buses each day. When it happens, the bus driver’s first priority is to make sure students are safe. That means they’re not typically able to identify a license plate. As such, cameras which automatically activate when a bus’ stop arm is engaged are becoming more popular.

It’s not entirely clear whether they have much of an effect, though. One example is the Laramie County School District in Wyoming, where state law requires cameras to be installed on all buses by 2016. Although the law is well-publicized, drivers are still passing stopped buses. According to transportation director Merle Smith, the district is still seeing double digit violations on a daily basis. In other districts, though, a deterrent effect has been reported. When a district can afford them and the law permits it, external cameras are more likely than not to be a good idea.

GIVE PARENTS PEACE OF MIND

Parents can’t control what happens to their children once they get on the bus. That responsibility belongs to bus drivers and transportation administrators. As a parent, putting a child’s safety in someone else’s hands can be frightening. One way you can ease their concern is with Here Comes the Bus®.

With Here Comes the Bus, parents know exactly when their child’s bus is near, and can send them to the bus stop at just the right time. No more long waits at the bus stop, and no more missed buses. For parents, such a simple thing can mean a lot. Combined with Synovia GPS and Comparative Analysis, Here Comes the Bus is a powerful tool to keep students safe.

You’re always thinking about student safety. Keep an eye on these bus safety trends while you’re readying for the second semester. With the right knowledge and the right tools in place, you and your parents will be able to rest at ease.

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Tags: transportation directors, safety, k-12, here comes the bus, school bus

School districts: As daylight fades, shed some light on bus arrival

Posted by Elizabeth James on Mon, Nov 16, 2015 @ 05:00 PM

November brings plenty of changes to American school districts. Leaves are falling, temperatuSYN School Districts Daylight Fades 290x226res
drop and Daylight Saving Time ends. Even though shifting our clocks back initially brings more daylight to the bus stop, it’s short-lived as we lose up to a couple of minutes of daylight each day until winter’s first day at the end of December.

Sending a child out to the bus stop can be stressful, especially over the next few months. Is the child late, or will they be waiting out in inclement weather? Are cars driving past the bus stop able to see children as clearly? Without question, getting to the bus stop too early this time of year isn’t ideal.

With these concerns in mind, let’s examine the high cost of students frequently missing the bus. Then we’ll consider how your district can help parents know exactly when their child’s bus will arrive.

Missing the bus can be costly

No parent wants their child to get to school late. However, even the best-laid plans can go awry, and before they know it the bus is here and gone, and their child is still at home. While that’s a frustrating way to start a morning, missing the bus can have far greater consequences.

The school bus is not just the safest way to get students to and from school; it’s also a school’s greatest tool to help prevent tardiness and absence. About 480,000 school buses nationwide transport more than 25 million students safely and on time every school day. A missed school bus often leads to a tardy arrival, or a missed day altogether. That can really add up.

Missing just two days a month will negatively affect a child’s academic performance. That’s chronic absence, and by sixth grade those absences become a good indicator that a student won’t finish high school. It starts off early in some cases. One in 10 students in kindergarten and first grade are chronically absent, and poor attendance can be the difference between reading proficiently and being held back by third grade.

Know exactly when the bus arrives

Fortunately, parents don’t have to choose between early and late. All they need is a tool like Here Comes the Bus® – the only app available in the U.S. that alerts parents when their child’s bus is near.

Here Comes the Bus enables parents to track their child’s bus in real-time on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. They can set up alerts to tell them when the bus is near – allowing them to choose exactly when to send their child to the bus stop. The Synovia app directly connects to the GPS tracking systems in your bus fleet, meaning it’s powered by our proprietary tracking data.

As the seasons change, parents don’t just lose daylight, or degrees on the thermometer. They lose degrees of safety for their kids once they send them out the door. They also risk tardiness or absenteeism if the timing isn’t right. When it’s something that important, every little bit counts. Protect children from danger and truancy. Make sure they get to the bus stop at just the right time – every time.

 

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Here Comes the Bus® Makes Customer Service Easier and Smarter

Posted by Elizabeth James on Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 04:47 PM

here comes the busWhen a bus comes early or late, it’s a major issue for parents and for students. If it’s early, a child is more likely not going to be ready in time and will probably end up missing it. If the bus is late, waiting for it can be dangerous for students due to extreme weather conditions. Either way, a bus that’s not on schedule can throw a wrench in the works for a parent’s day, and make a child’s morning miserable. And it can mean angry phone calls or emails for administrators and staff to deal with. 

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Giving parents more information – and having that information for yourself as well – can solve a lot of problems before they happen. And if a bus schedule does go sour, you have the tools at your disposal to solve the problem, and to explain to parents exactly what happened.

What’s Here Comes the Bus?

Here Comes the Bus is the only mobile device app available in the United States that alerts parents that their child’s bus is near. It launches nationwide for the start of the new 2015-16 school year. It offers two levels of access – basic and full. With basic access, parents can see the real-time location of their children’s buses on the Here Comes the Bus website on any device for no charge. Full access includes that, as well as a smartphone app, email alerts and push notifications, historical information, and an adjustable alert radius so they can decide when they’re notified that their child’s bus is near. 

How can Here Comes the Bus help with customer service? 

According to Suzanne Rothenberg, director of public relations and community outreach at the MSD of Decatur Township in Indianapolis, improving customer service is one of the main benefits of Here Comes the Bus. “From the district point of view, we want to focus on the positives – improving customer service, safety and communication with parents,” Rothenberg said. 

When parents know the exact location of their child’s school bus, they’re less likely to need to call. When a parent calls transportation, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either the bus is late, and the parent wants to know where it is and when it will arrive, or the bus already came and the parent wants to vent their anger since their child missed the bus. Here Comes the Bus gives you the ability to help parents help themselves.

Utilizing Core GPS tracking and Comparative Analysis from Synovia Solutions, Here Comes the Bus allows parents to see where the bus is with pinpoint accuracy. With full access, they don’t even have to remember to check – parents will be automatically notified when their child’s bus enters a certain perimeter, so they’ll know when to be ready. 

If a parent, for whatever reason, still needs to call, it’s much easier to answer a question quickly and correctly. If a bus isn’t where it should be, a staff member can simply take a screenshot of GPS data and email that to the parent. According to Scott Denton, assistant superintendent for Durham Public Schools, “The ability to do this has curbed the number of what we refer to as repeat callers…those parents who tend to find a reason to call every day about a particular bus.” Denton says that Here Comes the Bus was able to placate even some of the “most vocal critics” of drivers. 

Here Comes the Bus will reduce the number of phone calls, and make it easier for you to respond to the ones you still get. No matter what way you look at it, the app delivers for parents and administrators alike.

Interested in Learning more about Here Comes the Bus? 

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Tags: safety, k-12, here comes the bus, school bus

The Latest on Here Comes the Bus®

Posted by Elizabeth James on Wed, May 20, 2015 @ 08:59 AM

Here Comes the BusSeveral weeks ago, we told you about Here Comes the Bus®, a brand new website and mobile
app that enables parents and caregivers to view the real-time location of their child’s school bus using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

At the time, Synovia Solutions had just begun a two-month pilot program involving 17 school districts spread across seven states. Now that the pilot has reached the halfway point, we wanted to take a moment to share some information on the program, as well as feedback provided by a few of our participating districts. 

For the latest, we first sat down with Elizabeth James, Director of Product Strategy for Here Comes the Bus.

What would you say is the main objective of the pilot program?

To take the feedback we receive from parents and administrators and use it to identify areas that need to be improved before the official rollout later this summer. We want to work out any issues before Here Comes the Bus is officially made available to school districts nationwide.

How are you working to collect feedback from participants?

Toward the end of the pilot period, we will be distributing surveys to parents and administrators in select schools. Their responses will help us understand what is working, what isn’t, and what features and functionality we need to develop to make Here Comes the Bus even better. These surveys will also address our support model and let us know if our support team is meeting the needs of both parents and transportation officials.

From there, we will take everything we’ve gathered and use it to make any necessary updates before Here Comes the Bus debuts at the North American School Bus EXPO Conference and Trade Show (STN EXPO), taking place July 25-29 in Reno, Nevada.

Are there particular features associated with Here Comes the Bus that you’ve received more feedback on than others?

Parents love the push notifications. They really enjoy the convenience of being able to receive an alert when the bus is near.

Just this morning, one of the Transportation Directors involved in our pilot program told me about a mother that has three children enrolled in his district – one in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school. She heads to work before her children board the school bus, and uses the push notifications to inform her when her children’s buses arrive. She told the Transportation Director that ever since Here Comes the Bus became available, she feels more confident knowing that her children haven’t missed the bus and are on their way to school.

What can attendees expect when Here Comes the Bus debuts at the STN Expo?

Attendees who stop by our display (#221) will have the chance to directly interact with Here Comes the Bus and have all of their questions answered by our experts. It will be an excellent opportunity for those interested in Here Comes the Bus to speak with individuals who know the technology inside and out, so they can get a real sense of whether or not the product will work for their district.

Next, we spoke with Mark Anderson, Transportation Director for the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township in Indianapolis (IN), which is currently participating in the Here Comes the Bus pilot program.

What kind of immediate difference has Here Comes the Bus made as it relates to your transportation department?

The number of calls from parents asking about the location of their child’s bus has been greatly reduced. When we do receive calls, our response is always, "Have you signed up for Here Comes the Bus?" It has been a great tool for our parents. 

What kind of feedback have you received from parents and staff?

One mother told me she loves Here Comes the Bus since she works and can text her children when the bus is near, and said the system was well worth the investment. 

Have parents or administrators at other districts contacted you to find out more about Here Comes the Bus?

Two nearby districts have reached out to me recently to learn more. One paid me a visit so that they could see Here Comes the Bus in action, while the other gave me a call to discuss the technology and obtain my feedback. 

Another pilot program participant, John Payne, Transportation Information Systems Analyst for Newport News Public Schools (VA), shared the following message he received from a parent who has been using Here Comes the Bus:

“I am loving ‘Here Comes the Bus.’ It has been amazing for rainy days like yesterday. I was able to tell my daughter when to leave for the bus so she wasn't waiting outside for so long. Outstanding choice!'"

 

More Media Coverage of Here Comes the Bus

WAVY TV (VA)

The Daily Press (VA)

To learn more, including how to implement Here Comes the Bus in your district this upcoming school year, call Synovia Solutions toll-free at 1-877-796-6842 or click the icon below. 

Here Comes the Bus

Visit Here Comes the Bus 



Tags: safety, k-12, here comes the bus, school bus

Introducing Here Comes the Bus®, Technology That Keeps Parents Informed

Posted by Elizabeth James on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 @ 02:52 PM

Whether you’re a parent or someone who rode the bus to school as a child, chances are you’ve experienced the struggle of trying to predict the exact moment the school bus will arrive at your stop. It’s a guessing game that affects parents from coast to coast, causing millions of students to wait outside for extended periods of time amidst inclement weather, busy traffic and other roadside dangers – and that’s if they’re lucky enough to not have missed the bus.

Here Comes the BusThe Solution

To help make things easier (and safer) for everyone, we at Synovia Solutions developed Here Comes the Bus®, the only mobile device app available in the U.S. that alerts parents that their child’s bus is near.

An easy-to-use website and mobile device app, Here Comes the Bus enables parents and caregivers to view the real-time location of their child’s school bus on a computer, tablet or smartphone, helping them send their children to the bus stop at just the right time, every time.

In addition to helping parents locate their child’s school bus quickly and easily, Here Comes the Bus lets users access arrival and departure information, receive push notifications or email alerts when the bus is near and track children who ride separate buses. For security and privacy purposes, parents must obtain a private ID number – which grants access to their child’s bus only – to use Here Comes the Bus.

For school districts, Here Comes the Bus represents a simple, cost-effective way to reduce bus-related phone calls, increase student safety, improve parent communication and demonstrate a commitment to implementing meaningful technology.

What’s Next

Here Comes the Bus is currently being piloted in 16 school districts across seven states. The official debut will take place in July at the North American School Bus EXPO Conference and Trade Show (STN EXPO) in Reno, Nevada. From there, Here Comes the Bus will become available to K-12 districts nationwide in time for the 2015-’16 school year.

Media Coverage of Here Comes the Bus

Here Comes the Bus Indianapolis, IN 

Here Comes the Bus Charlotte County, FL 

Here Comes the Bus in Newport News, VA

 

To learn more, including how to implement Here Comes the Bus in your district this upcoming school year, call Synovia Solutions toll-free at 1-877-796-6842 or click the icon below. 

Here comes the bus  resized 600

Visit Here Comes the Bus 


Tags: k-12, here comes the bus, school bus