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Why worry about buses? Lost kids (and parents) know

District transportation manager Kerry Jensen supported the move to bring up-to-date software into the school bus system.

Sun Advocate reporter

Last August, on the very first day of school, cops pulled over a suspicious car in the Westwood subdivision. A caller had tipped them off that the car was shadowing a school bus for several blocks.

It turned out that the driver was a frantic parent searching for a missing child who had gotten on the wrong school bus. The story had a happy ending because the kid was found. The happier ending is that the district is taking steps to reduce the odds of repeat incidents.

With the adoption of a new transportation software package, parents, students, teachers and bus drivers should all be able to know who gets on and off where on any given bus. That capability and others were touted by the company selling the product last summer.

The VersaTrans software has been created to blend with the Utah Student Information System, according to Rodney Davis, Regional Account Manager for developer Tyler Technologies. At a briefing for board members and district information technology specialists last September, Davis said the software can also keep bus drivers aware of what student riders have special needs such as allergies or other medical conditions that might create emergencies to or from school.

It will also allow transportation planners to plot the most efficient routes. VersaTrans can remember average speeds for each road depending on time of day, and can even go so far as to consider the difference in speed between uphill or downhill travel on the same street. That means that planners can play "what if" on the computer to see how various routes and stops affect schedules.

The software will also be able to calculate whether or not a student is eligible to ride the bus at all because it can calculate distance from any address to the school. Parents will be able to find out for themselves if their student is eligible because there will be an e-link showing distance and bus routes.

One of the more sophisticated aspects of VersaTrans is that it can generate notifications if additions or deletions of student pickups will change travel time. For example, if a bus has to detour to pick up new students because they live too far away to walk to the regular stop, the software will calculate how much time will be added to the route and let transportation managers know that they should either alert parents beyond the detour know that the bus will be arriving later, or tell people whose stop is before the detour that the bus will be arriving a little earlier. The computer will generate a list of those who should be notified either way.

The program could also take a lot of guesswork out of statistics on ridership and mileage the district must file with the state. That information should be available as soon as enrollment data are recorded in the Student Information System.

Davis said that the system depends on accurate information input. Students' names and addresses must be absolutely correct, for example. However, the company will provide training for the district and also offers a 24/7 on-line knowledge base for additional guidance.

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