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TMCNet:  GPS used to track school buses in program to improve safety and efficiency

[December 17, 2012]

GPS used to track school buses in program to improve safety and efficiency

Dec 17, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Steve Turbiville watches five large monitors come to life with blinking circles and triangles that are red, yellow and green.

Turbiville is in the Cumberland County schools' Dispatch/GPS Center, and the shapes represent Cumberland County school buses equipped with a global positioning system. About 125 of the 480 Cumberland County school buses are a part of a GPS pilot program, which began last year.

The program improves efficiency and safety, said Al Miller, the transportation department's executive director.

With GPS on the buses, the transportation staff can access details about the bus stops, the duration of the stops and the speed of the bus between each stop. The dispatcher can direct buses to alternate routes in case of road closures or accidents.

"This gives us unlimited possibilities," Miller said. "The better we can keep our fleet on the road at any given time helps us to ensure that the students are getting to school on time." On a recent day, Turbiville, a communication specialist for the transportation department, receives a call from one of the drivers for assistance. The circle representing the bus is red at the third stop of the driver's morning route. Within five minutes, a school bus mechanic arrives at the stop.

"If a substitute driver who is lost has a breakdown, I can tell the driver, 'Just sit right there and we can come to you,' " Turbiville said. "Our response time is much quicker. We don't have to go look at maps. If someone is hurt, we can get to them faster." The school system uses EduTracker, a GPS school bus routing software and cellphones to track the buses. Each driver logs in on a cellphone at the start and the end of each run. Information is sent back to the system's dispatch center.

The program is tied into the system's Transportation Information Management System, a comprehensive computer-assisted school bus routing and scheduling software.

Across North Carolina, more than 4,400 of the 13,412 school buses that are on the road have GPS tracking, said Derek Graham, Transportation Services section chief with the state Department of Public Instruction. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is the only system in the state with all buses equipped with GPS tracking. The system has 959 buses.

"It is extremely useful technology that helps in two major areas -- safety and efficiency," Graham said. "They are able to track the routes and then determine whether any improvements need to be made. They are generating enough savings to pay for the system because of the improved efficiency." Cumberland County school officials hope the program will save the system between $70,000 to $100,000 a year. The buses travel 27,000 miles a day.

"We would like to have all the buses with GPS in August, but it will depend on our cellphone coverage," Miller said.

Cellphone coverage in certain parts of the county is poor and could hinder the tracking of buses, he explained.

The Robeson County school system is researching the idea, said Raymond Cummings, director of transportation for the Public Schools of Robeson County. Currently, the school system uses Transportation Information Management System.

"We have given the administration some preliminary numbers -- about $30,000 to $50,000 for cost; maintenance fee (of) about $25,000 a year and projected savings of about $150,000," Cummings said.

Cumberland County schools Superintendent Frank Till Jr. said the program will generate cost savings for the system.

"In the era of cost containment," he said, "this is an area that can help us." Staff writer Venita Jenkins can be reached at jenkinsv@fayobserver.com or 486-3511.

___ (c)2012 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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