Student bus badging improves K-12 transportation security and routing

By: | December 19, 2018


Student bus badging—in which students swipe ID badges while getting on and off school buses—is helping districts better manage security and track ridership, say administrators who have adopted the tool.

Midlothian ISD in Texas started bus badging two years ago. The program provides an instant attendance check as 3,600 students get on and off the bus each day, and offers a level of security that parents value, says Karen Permetti, the district’s chief communications officer.

“Many parents have the Amazon Prime delivery-tracking experience, and now expect us to be in that world as well,” says Permetti. Parents cannot track the location of students in real time—although that information is available to the district’s transportation center—but they do receive an email alert 10 minutes before the bus arrives in the morning and 10 minutes before afternoon drop-off.

“So if you’re a working parent, you can expect a call or text from your student a few minutes after you know they should be home safely,” says Permetti.

Safety and routing efficiency

The platform costs Midlothian ISD about $100,000 per year and includes an online system, tablets, badges and sensor pads for buses. The bus badge also functions as a student ID, a library card and a meal card.

“We thought it was a nominal investment for a lot of gain in providing that extra safety and security for kids,” says Permetti.

After daily routes and field trips, a driver immediately knows if all the students have left the bus. If there’s a problem, such as a bus being delayed by traffic or an accident, administrators can immediately contact parents of affected students, says Permetti.

The system also alerts a driver—and more importantly, a substitute driver who may not be as familiar with riders—if a student is getting off at a stop other than their regular one, which requires permission from parents. 

Training for drivers is very intuitive, says Permetti, and usually takes less than an hour.

Badging also allows district leaders to track time between stops more accurately so they can plan and modify routing, says Permetti. For example, if a bus is late all the time, the data will show where the delays are happening.

Not an immediate solution

Houston ISD began bus badging this past October. In use at nearly 120 schools, the district is tracking roughly 16,000 swipes per day, which translates to approximately 5,000 to 7,000 riders, says John Wilcots, interim transportation services general manager.

Parents receive a text message with the time and location when their student gets on the bus and swipes their card, and again when they swipe to get off the bus.

The district purchased all the equipment, including badges, sensor pads and tablets, which drivers also use for daily bus-safety checks. If a student does not have their card, they can use their name or badge number.

Parent feedback has been positive so far, although Wilcots says rolling out the program region by region would have been more effective. Launching districtwide stretched the transportation team thin, limiting its ability to monitor operations and troubleshoot issues.

“If we had started with a few schools, it would’ve also helped to better sell the program all around,” he says. “For example, the east side principals would tell the west side principals, ‘Hey, this is all working out.’”

Districts also need to study data gathered over an entire year before trying to create more efficient routing, says Wilcots.

“Bus badging has helped us, but it doesn’t get rid of all your routing and security issues overnight,” says Wilcots.

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