Take a sneak peek into a digital school bus

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on April 1, 1999

First off, I would like to thank the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation for its hospitality at its annual conference in Columbus in mid-March. I had the pleasure of addressing the membership about trends in school transportation and challenges facing the industry in the 21st century. They were a very good audience. They laughed at the appropriate moments and stayed until the very end of an hour-long presentation. I seemed to get the biggest response when I offered the following scenario in the not-so-distant future: On a busy Thursday afternoon, a route supervisor receives a call from a concerned parent who's worried that her child's bus is late. The supervisor turns to his desktop computer and asks: "Computer, where is Bus #41?" And the computer answers, "Bus #41 is traveling southbound on Elm Street at the intersection of Maple Avenue. It is traveling at 25 mph with 14 passengers." The supervisor relays that information to the parent and goes to the next phone call.

I also postulated that the route supervisor may also be able to "peer into the bus" through a digital surveillance camera that will stream live images back to his computer. (Those digital images also could be streamed into a principal's desktop computer, which might go a long way in helping the bus driver maintain discipline.) I wasn't tossing out pie-in-the-sky fantasies. Although I believe few school districts could afford the equipment necessary to implement this system, the technology for this setup already exists. We have voice-recognition and voice-synthesis software that allows us to talk to our computers - and for our computers to talk back. We have Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that allows us to locate vehicles. Tracking the speed of the bus can be accomplished using existing onboard computer technology, and counting passengers is no problem with photoelectric cells. Finally, we have digital cameras that allow us to capture and stream video to computers hooked into the Internet. It is indeed a brave new world.

An editor behind the wheel?
In the Editor's Note in our February issue, I stated my position on school bus drivers who leave children on their vehicles after the run is completed. I called for their dismissal - no second chances, no warnings, no suspensions, no retraining sessions. I still believe in this policy. It's followed by many school districts and contractors around the country. Drivers are certainly aware of the dangers of leaving a child aboard an empty bus. They must understand that punishment for any failure will be swift and harsh. That said, I empathize with letter writers who have questioned my credibility on this issue because, admittedly, I have never driven a school bus. Although I do not agree with their logic, I concur that the experience of driving a bus would provide me with clearer insights into the realities of school bus transportation. To that end I have decided to go through the process of becoming a school bus driver. Although I may never actually drive a school bus loaded with children on a real route, the process of obtaining my CDL and school bus driver certification should be enlightening. Now I need only find a "slow time" to undertake this mission. Although it may seem that this magazine magically arrives in the mail nine times a year, it actually takes quite a bit of work to put together each issue. Please grant me a few months before you start sending in letters asking how my training is coming along. When I get going, I'll let you know.

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