Education

New app lets Wake County parents track their child’s school bus location

Wake County parents will soon be able to know exactly where their child’s bus is – easing worries about catching the bus in the morning and when their child will get home in the afternoon.

The Wake County school system officially made the Here Comes The Bus app available Tuesday morning for families at year-round and modified-calendar schools to provide them with real-time bus location information. More than 1,700 people had registered for the program by 8:30 a.m. with the number expected to soar after traditional-calendar students, who account for the majority of bus riders, start a new school year on Monday.

The free app can be downloaded for smartphones and tablets from the iTunes AppStore or GooglePlay. Wake has provided information on how to use the app at www.wcpss.net/herecomesthebus.

“Having something that can notify me when the bus is within a two- to five-minute radius of the home is amazing,” said Jeremy Cleveland, a parent at Carpenter Elementary School in Cary who has been testing the app for Wake. “It gives me peace of mind and really helps me and supports my family in getting out and making sure we’re not missing the bus in the morning.”

The new app won’t be usable for traditional-calendar parents until three weeks into the school year in September. The delay will give school officials time to adjust and finalize the routes at the start of the school year. More than 70,000 students ride the bus each day.

Wake has been looking at offering bus tracking apps for the past several years but was held up because of issues such as concerns about the security of the data. But school officials 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.

Wake partnered with Synovia, the company that provides the GPS data for the 740 school buses that will be on the road for the new school year.

The Durham Public Schools system has been using Here Comes The Bus since the 2015-16 school year, becoming the first school system in North Carolina to use a bus tracking app for families.

Durham school officials say the app has eased parental concerns. Wake school officials expect the same to happen in the state’s largest school district.

“It’s giving parents some peace of mind,” said Christina Jenkins, the assistant principal in charge of transportation at Carpenter Elementary. “In a county this big where we depend on transportation, it’s a very useful tool.”

Jenkins said the app should be particularly helpful for parents of bus riders in kindergarten and first grade who have to be picked up by an adult from the bus stop in the afternoon. This school year, Wake standardized the practice of requiring all elementary school bus riders to have color-coded tags with bus route information on their backpacks.

Cleveland said the new app has been easy to use. He set it up to get alerts on his smartphone and smartwatch when his son’s bus is 500 feet from the stop, which gives him up to a three-minute warning when it will arrive.

“Me having an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old that is running crazy, it helps me out a ton getting them out to the bus stop on time and not having to stand out there for 20 to 30 minutes when cars are flying by us, so I absolutely love it,” he said.

The system isn’t perfect. School officials say that not all the app functions may work when a different bus is substituted on a route. Wake substitutes about 10 percent of the buses that run each day due to issues such as maintenance and driver availability.

Jenkins said parents should use the new app as a backup.

“I would never rely on technology 100 percent,” she said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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