Wake County families may finally get the ability to track the location of school buses – and a group of Raleigh middle school students could play a part in making that dream a reality.
Wake school officials are working with the company that installed GPS units on the district’s buses to provide an app that parents and students can use to track buses.
At the same time, school officials also plan to meet with students from Hilburn Academy in Raleigh who are trying to develop their own bus tracking app.
The Hilburn students are trying to win the Fan Favorite award in the national Verizon App Challenge, where the prize includes $15,000 for the school and help from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to turn a concept into a working app. Hilburn was in 11th place Thursday. Voting ends Feb. 14.
“If we actually try to make this app possible, then so many people’s lives will be different,” said Aneri Shah, 13, an eighth-grade student at Hilburn. “Their parents will know when the students get on the bus and the students will know where the bus is and when it will get there.”
Other school systems have been more aggressive than Wake in providing parents the ability to track buses.
Last school year, the Durham Public School System became the first North Carolina district to offer parents the ability to track buses in real time. The free app has drawn positive feedback from its 4,886 users, which is roughly a quarter of Durham’s bus-riding population, according to Chip Sudderth, a district spokesman.
“Many parents count on the app to know where the bus is on the route and whether the stop has been made,” Sudderth said. “The app is also good for emergencies when buses are delayed.”
Wake has been looking at offering apps for the past several years but has held up because of issues such as concerns about the security of the data. Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said some of the concerns have lessened now that parents can use their child’s PowerSchool identification number to sign up for any new app.
But Luten said there are other logistical issues that still need to be resolved because Wake uses a system in which buses run multiple routes serving different schools.
Wake is looking at the “Here Comes The Bus” app that’s being used in Durham. But Luten said the app tracks specific buses, so the data may not be accurate when routes are modified because of issues such as a substitute driver or a substitute bus being used.
Luten said there’s no timetable for when a bus app would be rolled out to Wake families.
The Hilburn students are hoping their TRACKRZ app could fill the need in Wake. Their proposal was named one of the two best in the state, netting the school a $5,000 prize and tablets for the six students on the team.
Most of the students on the app team are among Wake’s 75,000 bus riders, so they can relate to how an app would make life easier for families. It would mean not having to wait at the bus stop for long periods when the weather is bad or if the bus is running late.
“I think all the kids will really enjoy using this app, and they won’t have to stress about getting on the bus, and their parents at the same time ... won’t have to stress,” said Ben Klenke, 14, an eighth-grade student at Hilburn.
What could help make the app a reality is whether Wake will provide the students access to the bus GPS data. Luten said no decision will be made until after transportation officials meet with the students and their teacher, Michelle Bass.
Even if Wake doesn’t provide the GPS data, Bass said the students can still work on the app to show how it would work. If they win the online contest to get MIT’s help, the demand for the app will be high.
“We’ve already had requests from parents who wanted to use the app,” Bass said. “We had to sadly break the news that it’s just an idea.”
Vote for the bus app
Text TRACKRZ to 22333 by Feb. 14 to help Hilburn Academy’s bus-tracking app win the Fan Favorite award in the Verizon App Challenge. You can only vote once.