SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 13, 2013

GPS lets parents track their kids' buses

Pilot program being set up in Beverly; free trial offered

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Technology might not have all the answers, but a new service is promising to solve the age-old question many parents ask themselves on school-day afternoons: “Where’s the bus?”

Beverly Public Schools is partnering with a new company to offer parents access to GPS technology that will track the location of school buses.

The district sent out notices last week promoting the service as a way to “know precisely” when your child’s bus will arrive at your bus stop, while also helping officials manage the bus fleet more efficiently.

“I encourage you to try this exciting new technology by signing up at WheresTheBus.com,” wrote William Burke, the district’s director of transportation.

WheresTheBus is a startup company based in Wayland and run by Joe Winkler. Winkler said he chose Beverly and a town in Pennsylvania to run a pilot program.

He said the company will install the technology on all of Beverly’s school buses at no charge. Parents can sign up for a “limited-time free trial” that will allow them to track their child’s school bus on any device with an Internet connection.

The company will most likely start charging parents for the service at some point, Winkler said, but couldn’t say how much the service would cost.

“We’re focused right now on proving this is something that helps people,” he said. “If you’re standing outside wondering when the bus is going to arrive, it’s nice to hit a button on your phone and get the magic answer.”

School officials said the program improves safety by giving the transportation department a way to track all of its buses, while at the same time helping parents. The school district is paying nothing for the program, officials said.

“It can give parents greater communication about their children and their whereabouts,” Superintendent Marie Galinski said. “They will be able to tell where the bus is located at any time. If the bus is late, they will know that it is on its way. It is a win-win for us and for the parents.”

The use of technology to track school buses is growing, according to School Bus Fleet magazine. In the magazine’s annual equipment survey last year, 38 percent of school transportation departments said they used GPS to monitor their buses.

Some districts have gone a step further, tracking not just the buses but individual students through the use of ID cards that are scanned when they get on and off the bus.

Macarthur Road resident Kristine Murray, who has a kindergartner and a second-grader who take the bus, said the service could be helpful if she or her husband are running late or want to stay inside until the last minute when the weather is bad. The question is whether the service is worth the price that the company will eventually charge.

“It’s definitely interesting,” she said. “I don’t know if we’d be willing to pay for it.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.