Central Maine School Districts Turn to Emerging Bus Scanning Technology to Combat Safety and Driver Shortages


READING FIELD – On Thursday, Kelly Thompson visited students at Wayne Elementary School to hand them key cards containing their name, photo and a barcode to scan when they boarded the bus.

Once scanned, the card will tell the bus driver who the student is and where to drop them off. Previously, the bus driver would manually type into a device when a student got on or off the bus. But now that students are using a card, officials say the process is easier and safer.

“They’re all asking when they can use it,” said Thompson, the tDirector of Transportation for Regional School Unit 38.

Wayne Elementary School became the first school in the district to receive its key cards. The district plans to distribute the key cards to all schools in the district, but does so on a day-to-day basis so Thompson and his staff can give a presentation on what to do.

Kelly Thompson, director of transportation for Maranacook-area schools, pins Connor, left, and Reese Chapman with their new bus ID badges Thursday at Wayne Elementary School. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The technology was originally installed on school buses to contact students during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Superintendent Jay Charette. But thEven after school districts stopped having to contact the trace on public transportation, the technology has proven to be extremely useful, primarily for student safety and to help address issues related to driver shortages. ‘bus.

“With COVID-19, we really needed to find a way to track who was on the bus and for how long and the protocols around that,” Charette said. “We really started looking and saying, ‘It’s related to COVID-19, but what are the benefits of this system?’ Being able to know who is on the bus, what seat they are in and knowing when a student is going to be picked up or dropped off is a very win-win situation and we believe it allows everyone to participate in transportation to treat.”

With an iPad-like device installed on the buses to access the software, school and transportation department officials can generate a report showing who boarded a bus, when they were on the bus, and how long. they were on the bus – important factors in determining close contact with a COVID-19 case.

Bus conductor Emily Webber checks out the new transportation computer Thursday at Wayne Elementary. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The technology, called Traversa and made by Plano, Texas-based Tyler Technology, has several different features in addition to student tracking. With the device, bus drivers need to perform pre and post ride inspections on the bus and check for maintenance issues. The device will track the drivers speed and will only work when the driver is stopped.

It costs the Maranacook school district about $5,500 a year for the Traversa subscription, depending on the expenses listed in its budget for the next year.

With the student key card, the device can tell who is on the bus and who is not – if a student is not on the bus that day, the device can change the route and skip the student stop. If the device changes its route, it will only do so on main roads and ensure that the child can always leave the bus on the correct side of its stop.

With Tyler 360, another subsection of the technology that RSU 38 will soon be rolling out, parents can see via a smartphone app that their child has boarded the bus, got off the bus, and when the bus is expected to arrive. Transportation directors can also alert parents to bus news.

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

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

In the Augusta area, Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2 is already using the system. Director of Transportation Katie Spear said at the February school board business meeting that the technology was a “tremendous help” with COVID-19 contact tracing, or if “for some reason someone’s child doesn’t fit in at home”.

The Maine Department of Education did not immediately respond to comments last week regarding statewide trends with bus routing technology.

When discussions about installing the technology on school buses first became a topic in September at the RSU 38 school board meeting, board member Dane Wing raised concerns about safety and whether or not someone could hack the system, or whether parents’ access to the bus route could be worrying. Thompson clarified during the meeting that the smartphone app does not allow parents to see the bus route, but rather the time their student will arrive at their specific stop.

Tyler Technology media relations specialist Jennifer Kepler explained the security of the technology, saying that all data entering and leaving Tyler’s data centers is monitored and logged.

“Tyler’s student transportation solution is delivered as a software-as-a-service solution, which means a district doesn’t need to own, update, or protect on-premises hardware,” said she declared. “Instead, Tyler hosts customer data in its data centers. … All student data is encrypted in their software solutions and Tyler Drive tablets.

Vose pointed out that the technology can also be useful in tackling the shortage of bus drivers, as routes can be changed in real time, depending on who is on the bus. RSU 38 fared relatively well compared to other districts when it came to bus driver shortages, but there were times when routes had to change or a bus did not run.

“It helps to be efficient with routes,” Vose said. “There may not be the same number of drivers (in a neighborhood), or fewer buses, but the same number of children. This allows for more efficiency with routes, giving information to drivers who might be new or don’t have drivers familiar with the student’s drop off locations. »

On Thursday, bus driver Emily Webber teaches Wayne Elementary students about bus safety. Schools in the Maranacook region equip students with an identity document to slip into their buses. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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

Although the kids have acclimated well to the technology, Thompson said she trained her staff “in small steps,” so they could adopt it at a pace rather than all at once. She gave the example of logging into the device one day and then changing the bus route the next like some of her lessons.

“They were reluctant because it’s so new and so different, but they’ve proven they’re the people they are, which is really amazing, and they’ve embraced it,” Thompson said of his pilots. . “…They understood the ‘why’, what the ‘why’ was, and that we had to join because of the ‘why’, but they all did a good job of being open-minded.”

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