Illinois school districts using GPS to track buses

ROCKFORD – Several school districts in northern Illinois are using GPS and electronic key cards to track buses and students to improve the safety and efficiency of their transport operations.

The technology is being used in the city of Rockford and the smaller community of Freeport, The Rockford Register Star reported.

Children swipe electronic cards as they get on and off the buses, and that’s allowed school officials to tell worried parents where their kids are with the click of a computer mouse. It’s helping dispatchers keep tabs on buses during snow storms and see if drivers are getting to their stops on time. District officials are even using the systems to analyze ridership numbers, route speeds and idle times to make their systems more efficient.

Amber Miller, the principal of Johnson Elementary School in Rockford, said that was useful in a case where a parent was confused about whether their child was going to ride the bus or needed to be picked up.

“The parent didn’t know where the student was,” Johnson said. “I called. They used the system and saw the student got on the bus, and we were able to tell the parents the child was safe.”

The Rockford School District installed $350,000 worth of GPS technology in 272 buses last year.

“It saves time and worry,” Rockford bus driver Alan Curtis told the newspaper.

In the past, drivers had to pull over and check the seats if a dispatcher called trying to locate a child. Now, it’s done electronically.

Dispatchers can also see in real time if a bus is delayed or stranded in bad weather.

“It’s great for safety,” Rockford parent Melissa Champion said while picking up her son, Mason, 7, at a bus stop Thursday. “With all of the stuff that goes on in schools these days ... things like this make you feel better.”

Schools in nearby Freeport have used the technology since 2009.

Freeport School District spokeswoman Stephanie Helms said their system also provides real-time operational and mechanical data on their buses, which carry about 3,000 students each day.

The district is considering opening access so parents can track buses and children from their own computers.

“The safety and efficiency go hand-in-hand, especially this time of year,” Helms said. “You get the snow and the ice, and buses run late or get stuck. It allows us to get that information to parents much more quickly.”

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