Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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August 13, 2013

Tracking school buses

Officials say new GPS system is important safety tool for Kokomo School Corp.

At 2:52 p.m. Monday, Larry Johnson sat in his office and watched Kokomo School Corp. bus 211 move across the map on his computer screen.

The school bus was headed south on Berkley Road going 17 mph.

Johnson, the district’s transportation director, tracked the vehicle using a new GPS system his department installed this summer.

He’s only had the opportunity to use it a few times since school started Thursday, but he said it’s already been a game changer for him.

As transportation director, Johnson manages a fleet of 69 buses. That’s no small feat under normal circumstances.

But since the district opened a series of specialty schools and started allowing students to choose which school they attend, it has become even trickier, said Dave Barnes, director of communications for Kokomo Schools.

Many students are no longer attending their neighborhood schools. So instead of busing kids around their neighborhood, the district is busing them all over the city.

“With choice, that makes the whole game a little tougher,” he said. “The routes have become more complicated.”

Before now, it was tough for the district to see inefficiencies in its routes or answer parents’ questions about where their kids were or where the buses were at.

“It was almost impossible to get a clear picture of everything,” Johnson said.

To get information, they had to either follow the buses or rely on the drivers.

Even reaching the drivers to get some of those answers was a challenge.

Parents would call in and ask a question, Johnson said. It might be a question about where their children were or whether the bus stopped at their house that day. He would have to put the phone down, pick up his radio and ask for the driver who could answer that question.

Sixty-nine drivers were using the same radio station to communicate with each other, though, so sometimes it would take five minutes for Johnson to hear back.

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