Every city school bus will have GPS this fall, to prevent hours long delays that have plagued school years past, the Daily News has learned.
Education Department officials will also be beefing up staff and adding steeper penalties for blown bus routes, according to Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman for the agency.
City officials announced Wednesday that the changes will take effect by the first day of school on Sept. 5, in addition to a longer-term plan to partner with the rideshare app Via to develop an app that allows parents to track school buses in real time.
“We’ll have GPS in every bus on the first day of school, and through our partnership with Via, we’ll soon have a state-of-the-art app for families to track buses and get real-time automatic updates,” schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said.
City Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), who expressed concern about the pace of the council-mandated installation of the GPS devices on all of the city’s 9,000 school buses, said he “feels good about the prospect of having a GPS device” on every bus by the first day of school. Devices were previously installed on 6,000 buses that transport special education students. Officials said they’re halfway through added GPS to the remaining 3,000 buses.
With the installation of the new trackers – which can’t be turned off – all GPS location data will be sent to the Office of Pupil Transportation, allowing parents to contact that office directly for updates instead of going through individual bus drivers or companies.
The city’s bus system, which ferries about 150,000 students, relies on a patchwork of 60 private companies to the tune of more than $1 billion, according to City Council Member and Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger (D- Brooklyn). Delays, blown routes, and radio silence from bus companies to anxious parents have become a mounting problem, with almost 27,000 complaints in the first three days of school last year.
Previously, a contract waiver protected bus companies from hefty fines or penalties if they showed up late, missed a route, or failed to communicate with parents about location during the first days of school.
That waiver has now been lifted, according to Barbot, allowing the city to more aggressively enforce fines and penalties for faulty service. Companies will be fined $230 for dropping students off within five minutes of the start of the school day.
The Education Department will also add 20 staffers to the overburdened Office of Pupil Transportation.
Parents now have access to pick up and drop-off time information - though no real-time map yet - through the city’s “MySchool” online portal by two weeks before school at the latest, department officials said.
In addition to the immediate steps, department officials announced a 5-year, $36 million partnership with the rideshare app Via to create a more high-tech app for parents.
The app will allow parents to track the buses in real time on a map, and will “optimize” routes automatically for bus drivers to avoid traffic. Location tracking will come from GPS-enabled tablets plugged into the buses’ USB ports, which will also have access to maintenance information for the vehicles.
“If you’re getting hazard lights and caution lights on your school bus the DOE is going to know about it,” Kallos said.
The new Via-supported app won’t be able to use the same GPS devices officials installed on buses for this school year. Department spokeswoman Barbot said the city wasn’t ready to roll out the Via partnership to start this school year and need to comply with council mandates to install location tracking by the beginning of the year. Officials said they’d work on the new app this school year but didn’t say when it would be ready.
“They’re saying all the right things,” Treyger said. “But they will be judged by our children getting to and from our school safely or in a timely.”