Would you pay for an app that gave you real-time information on where your child’s school bus was located, or would you be more worried that the information is even publicly available?
The Wake County school system is wrestling with cost and privacy concerns in determining how far to go to provide accurate, real-time information on bus locations. The state’s largest school system is evaluating whether to acquire and make publicly available third-party software that taps into GPS devices located on buses.
Following widespread complaints about bus service in the 2012-13 school year, Wake began providing online bus updates.
David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, told school board members on May 6 that they’ve had more success with updating the online system in the morning. He said it’s been more challenging getting real-time data in the afternoon.
Neter explained that the GPS units on the buses do not provide automatic updating to the district’s website or the ability to provide updates to third parties. He said that the website has to be updated manually.
As a result, Neter said they’ve begun looking at third-party software that could let them automatically provide the GPS data online or to a smartphone.
Neter said the software wouldn’t be free so one issue is whether the district or the parents would cover the user fees. If it was paid by the parents, Neter said they’d have to ask what they’d do with those who can’t afford the cost.
Neter said the privacy concerns will also be “lengthy discussion.”
“Unlike public transit, I want to know where a CAT bus is so I can make the stop,” Neter said. “K-12 transportation has specific students on specific buses. We have issues like joint custody.
We have other issues and there is likely going to be some concern on parties getting a benefit as a double edge, a double-edged sword. The flip side of that coin is privacy concerns So those are some things we'll have to look at."
Neter said they’re reaching out to other districts to see how they address these issues.
As a “bridge” for the 2014-15 school year, Neter said they’re looking at how to improve manually updating the website. He said they’re also asking schools to better use social media to provide information on bus status. He said it’s Wake’s goal to provide parents with “reasonably close to real-time updates.”