School bus tracking apps: Good or bad idea?

OYSI: School bus tracking app

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A new app could let you track your child’s school bus and know where they are at all times, but privacy advocates and even some local transportation directors are skeptical of the idea.

At first it sounds great: an app that lets you track your child’s school bus so you know when it’s 3 minutes away from the stop, saving your kids from spending unnecessary time standing in the cold. You know when they’re four minutes away from getting home in the afternoon and you can set out their snack or prepare yourself for their school stories, or just make sure their bus is where its supposed to be.

Several companies offer this kind of service, and one of the most popular has more than a million downloads. But none of the major Birmingham-area school systems we reached out to are using this technology.

“We’ve looked at this and the cost is just astronomical,” says Jeff Harper, Cullman County Schools' Transportation Director. “You don’t wanna put a price tag on a child’s safety, but even if this system were free, at this point, I would not opt for this system on our bus.”

Harper researched the idea and says he thinks the $50,000 a year it would cost his system could be better spent on other safety measures like more cameras. His bigger concern is privacy.

“Honestly, you know, this thing is set up so parents can see where the buses are,” Harper says. “We give out a password, but passwords can be shared. I really am not for the whole general public knowing where my school buses are. I’m not real crazy for safety reasons, even for terrorist reasons. I just don’t want the public to know exactly where my buses are, I don’t even want them to know where they are on the route.”

The apps' providers say this technology also offers another tool for parents and school systems to keep their bus drivers accountable, but Harper says his drivers have 2-way radios and a network of parents watching the clock.

“They’re so precise and accurate at arriving at their bus stops at the same times every day, if a bus is 3 minutes late, a parent calls me, what’s going on? Believe me, if my bus gets off route, we will know about it.”

So far the only system in Alabama using this bus tracking app is in Huntsville, though Birmingham City Schools tells us it’s studying the idea but it’s too early to say whether it will use it.

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