By DAVE BREITENSTEIN, [email protected]
Every day, 664 buses transport 39,000 Lee County public school children to and from school, circulating through area streets like a frenzied pack of bees buzzing around their hive. Transportation officials want to use technology to help monitor the swarm, possibly outfitting every bus with a Global Positioning System that uses computerized maps to track buses on their morning and afternoon routes. The Lee County School District also is considering a student tracking system that uses fingerprint scanning to check whether children are on the right bus, what time they hop on and off the bus and if their ride will be delayed.
California-based GeoSpatial Technologies and Everyday Wireless LLC of Pennsylvania have equipped three buses each with GPS tracking devices during a 30-day pilot program. Both companies are vying for a possible $1.1 million project to outfit 664 regular route buses and another 60 spares in the district’s fleet.
Once a GPS box is installed, transportation officials can monitor the exact location of the bus on a computer map, the times it picks up or drops off students, if traffic congestion will cause the bus to arrive late at school and even the speed a bus is traveling. School Board members are expected to visit the transportation depot before determining whether to move forward with the project.
If approved, Karnbach would like to add a student tracking system in the second phase that would require children to enter their fingerprints into a digitized database. If a student is trying to enter the wrong bus, a message on a digital screen instantly would alert the bus driver.
Parents wondering if their child missed the morning bus could call the transportation department, which could research that information electronically. The process now involves several telephone calls and radio pages, and parents often grow frustrated at the delays.
Palm Beach County also is equipping its school buses with GPS devices, but is using a swipe card system instead of fingerprinting to track students. Karnbach said this method is not always accurate because children can lose their cards or switch them with friends. Some parents, though, have questioned the security aspect of having their children’s fingerprints, home addresses and student data floating around cyberspace.
“All of this information is done with the data encrypted, so it’s very secure,” said John Lim, GeoSpatial’s chief executive officer. “When you see information on the screen, there is no image of the fingerprint.”
Karnbach said the fingerprinting system will help Lee County provide more accurate ridership data to the Florida Department of Education, which supplies transportation funding based on two week-long assessments each school year. More importantly, though, Karnbach said, the extra monitoring will help both parents and the school eliminate confusion about whether a child missed a bus or fell asleep on the way to class.