METAIRIE, La. — A multi-function system by ONGO Live Inc. that is in use at pupil transportation operations in several states is helping to combat issues that put student safety at risk, including illegal school bus passing.
The BusGuard School Bus Monitor System, along with all of ONGO Live’s products, offers real-time streaming video. Features for the interior of a school bus comprise cameras to monitor students and the driver (recorded video is available for at least seven days for review by administration), a no-student-left-behind button that must be pressed at the end of every route to indicate that the driver has checked the bus for sleeping students, and a driver emergency button that can be installed near the driver’s foot or mounted on the instrument panel.
Components for the outside of a school bus include seven cameras that are mounted on the left side of the bus. “This allows for the monitoring of traffic across four lanes out from the bus with vehicles traveling in both directions,” COO Jeff Caterina told SBF.
Additional cameras are mounted at the front and rear of the bus with footage visible from a monitor on the bus’ dashboard. This gives the driver a clear view of the roadway. (For a diagram that shows where these cameras are located, along with some of the system's other features, click here.)
“We believe that the school bus crossing zone needs to be attended to, so we monitor the area in front and in back of the bus so that the driver can’t back over a child or run over a child,” CEO Robert Leonard told SBF, adding that if a child was running alongside the bus, it would be visible from the dashboard monitor.
Finally, a camera pointed out of the rear window of the bus records vehicles that are following the bus; the footage can be reviewed in case of a kidnapping. The BusGuard system also includes such features as GPS capabilities, on-time/off-route check alerts that can be sent to transportation administrators, an engine-kill component (i.e., the engine can be shut down remotely in the event of an emergency or if the bus has been idling for too long) and an inertia sensor, which provides data for real-time alerts or archived reports on such driver behavior as speeding, sudden accelerations and sharp turns.
“We can then extrapolate from our system reports that reflect the information,” Leonard said. “This enables managers to monitor from afar what’s going on and then receive updates relative to information that they think is important.”
In addition to the fact that a variety of components are bundled into the system to provide a safe environment for students both inside and outside of a school bus, Leonard said that BusGuard is unique because of a component that has enabled ONGO Live to issue traffic tickets to motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses.
“We’ve been in the business of issuing tickets for almost three years. We’ve issued thousands of tickets in Louisiana and in the state of Rhode Island [where the company operates as SmartBus Live], and we are currently doing tests with school districts in nine other states, including North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia,” Leonard said.
The BusGuard component that helps capture illegal bus passers is a traffic management team (called VidCops) that reviews footage recorded by cameras on the exterior of the bus. Each school district that ONGO Live works with is divided into precincts and there are approximately 12 buses in each precinct. Monitors for each precinct review footage from the cameras that are mounted on the left side of the buses that capture traffic across four lanes.
“When each person watches those 12 buses, they’re alerted when a bus in their precinct stops and puts its stop arm down. If during that time a driver passes the stopped school bus, they mark that evidence, sign an affidavit that they saw the incident happen live and it’s automatically clipped and packaged,” Leonard explained. “The affidavit is scanned in and sent to the police department, the police department then reviews all of the evidence and the affidavit and signs off on the ticket. We process the ticket and send it to the person. We also publish a website where the person can go to and see the offense that took place. The person can then pay the ticket online or elect to go to court to contest it.”
(Leonard noted that everything ONGO Live offers to the school bus market is free. “We don’t charge for our equipment at all — we look to the offenders who pass stopped school buses as the source of payment for the cost of the program,” he said.)
A benefit of using BusGuard’s VidCops system to address the illegal bus passing problem, Leonard said, is that it leaves the school bus driver free to focus on transporting students.
“If you have a bus full of kids, I don’t believe that the best place to go is the driver and add another responsibility for them while they’re trying to drive the kids, monitor behavior, etc.,” he said.
In working with a new school district, Caterina said that ONGO Live starts with route research. “We do surveys with the school bus drivers and we watch the intersections. We have some test equipment that can be transferred from bus to bus and can be used on each route to count how many illegal passing violations are occurring each day. Generally we’ll start by installing the equipment on the most high-risk routes first,” he said.
Such was the case with Dallas County Schools (DCS), which ONGO Live began working with several years ago. As SBF reported in our November 2010 issue (pg. 14), DCS has a chronic illegal bus passing problem. The district installed the BusGuard system on several of its buses and ran a pilot program to provide the city council’s public safety committee with evidence of the severity of the problem. DCS board president Larry Duncan and Superintendent Rick Sorrells hoped this would illustrate the need for the passage of an ordinance for school bus crossing zones and to permit the installation of the BusGuard system on each of the district’s buses.
“At Dallas County Schools, we ran the BusGuard program on about a dozen buses for about four months. In our studies, there were multiple offenses daily on those 12 buses. At this point, the ordinance has not been passed, but Larry Duncan and Dr. Sorrells are working on it. The tickets that we issue through the BusGuard system are civil penalty tickets and require a civil ordinance to be written in order to have the program be successful, so to date, we haven’t issued any tickets in Dallas,” Leonard said. “We have, however, sent a multitude of warning statements to motorists who passed the buses.”
He also noted that approximately 100 DCS buses will be outfitted with BusGuard in the near future, and that ONGO Live expects to install the system on buses at 20 new school districts in 2011.
For more information about the BusGuard system and others that ONGO Live offers, visit http://busguard.net.