In an amusing bit of irony, an app that would notify families if their child’s bus is delayed has itself been delayed – and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools isn’t ready to tell us when it will arrive.
“It’s still testing,” spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.
Many parents rejoiced in August, when CMS officials said they’d offer a bus-tracking app in October. Parents began posting queries on CMSListens.org, a new district communication site, when they didn’t hear anything more.
“The ‘Here Comes the Bus’ app is temporarily on hold,” came the reply in late October. “A communication piece will come out shortly that will define the roll out dates.”
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Wake County Public Schools is a bit further down that road, and spokeswoman Lisa Luten filled me in on why it’s a challenge to use the app in districts as large as those in Raleigh and Charlotte.
Wake phased in Here Comes the Bus, starting in August with students riding buses to schools that start earlier than most. More than 1,700 signed up immediately. The district pushed back the rollout for schools on the traditional August-to-June schedule once officials realized how hard it was to track buses that make as many as three different runs each morning and afternoon.
The system works with a GPS tracker on each bus – simple enough in small districts where buses run the same route to the same school each morning and afternoon. But Wake has 740 buses on the road, and each one may deliver students to one early-start school, then make runs to two more schools with later start times before the morning is out.
Jeremy Cleveland says the "Here Comes the Bus" app has given him peace of mind by letting him know when his son's Wake County school bus is coming.
Anything from a sick driver to a problem on the road can require a bus switch, sometimes in the middle of the route, Luten said. That’s when the tracking tends to fall apart – and when the parents are most likely to be concerned.
And when there’s a problem, bad information is worse than no information at all, Luten says: “Accuracy is really important.”
After a lot of work, Wake was ready to offer Here Comes the Bus at all schools. About 30,000 families have signed up (the district pays $2 per user, with no cost to the families).
“They would say most of the time it works really well, but then there are some times when there are challenges,” Luten said. For instance, when Wake had an early release day this week it had to notify families not to rely on the bus app.
Luten notes that she can’t speak for CMS. But it’s a safe bet the folks in Charlotte are grappling with similar issues. Wake is North Carolina’s largest district, but CMS is its busing capital, with almost 1,100 buses on the road taking students to 176 schools, including many magnets that pull students from a large area. That’s one of the reasons parents are so eager for real-time bus information – and one of the reasons it can be hard to provide.
CMS might want to take note of what Luten calls the low-tech tracking option in Wake: The district’s website, wcpss.net, has spreadsheets that are updated every 15 minutes during morning and afternoon runs. Parents can click on their child’s school and see the status of each bus. It may not tell you exactly where that bus is, as the app does, but you can see whether any given bus is on schedule or running late.