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Superior School District test-drives GPS units for buses

A bus pulls up to Northern Lights Elementary School in Superior. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The Superior School District has begun a one-month trial run using GPS technology to track buses. The pilot program, which could someday help parents pinpoint where their child's bus is at any given time, was prompted by the extreme cold and snow of the past winter.

Transportation Director David See said the district reached out to speak with parents, students and staff to ask what could be done better to ensure students' safety from a busing standpoint.

"What it came down to was one question," See said. "If I can use my cellphone to determine where my package is from Amazon or how far away an Uber is from me, why can't I tell where a bus filled with students is at all times?"

The test drive kicked off April 1 on three buses. It involves plug-and-play GPS units that provide real-time status and location using Google Maps. The information is uploaded to a website that only the district can access.

"Eventually, we would like to send alerts to parents via their cellphones notifying them when their bus will be arriving or whether or not their bus may be delayed," See said.

In the initial stages, only the transportation department would have access to the data. See said it could give them the opportunity to spot issues ahead of time and make it easier to manage routes and create more effective ones. The company providing the GPS units also provides the district's routing software, which offers seamless integration between the systems.

Tracking buses isn't a new concept.

"The Maple School District currently has GPS installed on their buses and there has been a trend of GPS units being added to buses nationwide," See said. "I've spoken with many school districts in the country that have either implemented or are implementing GPS units and the added safety they provide has been invaluable to them."

There is no cost for the one-month trial run. If the district decides to implement the GPS program, See said it would be installed on 25 buses for about $30 per month, or a dollar a day, per bus.

The Superior School District has 2,085 students who are eligible for busing and around 1,500 that ride on any given day.

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