A Partial Solution to the Wake County Bus Problem

Dear Superintendent Tata,

The school bus my child rides, route 7, has been late three out of four days this week. The first day of school was a nightmare. I freaked out and drove my child to Dillard Drive so they wouldn’t be late on the first day. The greeters at the school were very nonchalant about the whole thing. “Oh, it’s just the first day of school, the buses are always late.” What?!?

Today, we waited over 30 minutes for the bus. It didn’t arrive until after 9:00am and school starts at 9:15am. Which is kind of late if you ask me. I could have driven my child to school and been back home in less time. It caused me to be late for my first meeting of the day. We need a solution. The tardiness doesn’t just impact the kids, it impacts the parents as well. And while I don’t understand the entire problem, I have a partial solution that can help parents save time and be more efficient.

Where’s my school bus?

I work for a local open source company here in Raleigh. My day job involves highlighting how the principles of open source, like collaboration, transparency, and participation can improve our everyday lives. At night, I’m a civic geek helping out with initiatives like CityCamp Raleigh where volunteers look to improve civic participation using various technologies.

In my work, I’ve become interested in the open government movement. And that has lead me to become familiar with an organization named Code for America. One of their open source projects is called “Where’s my school bus?” The city of Boston successfully deployed the application. Their problem stemmed after a big snow storm and the school system had over 3,000 calls about the status of buses in a week. Sound familiar?

As I understand it, the project is open source which means the source code is available to be re-used and modified if needed. There are no license fees to use this application, so Wake County Schools doesn’t need to purchase any software and would need to do two things:

  1. Stand-up a dedicated server or hosted website to serve the application and;
  2. Ensure that all buses are GPS-enabled and the routes are entered into the app

The results? Parents would be able to use the Where’s my school bus? application to monitor the progress of their child’s school bus. We can be more efficient with our time and make sure our children don’t miss the bus and that parents are on-time in the afternoon for drop-off.

What do you think? Is this something Wake County Public Schools can investigate and deploy? It’s a partial solution to the overall problem, but I think it would be well-received by parents across the county.

Regards,

Jason Hibbets, concerned parent

About Shibby

Jason Hibbets is a senior community architect at Red Hat which means he is a mash-up of a community manager and project manager for Opensource.com--a publication and story-telling platform for open source communities. At night, he wears a cape, and is a captain for the Open Raleigh brigade, as well as a co-chair for NC Open Pass. Jason is the author of a book called The foundation for an open source city--a resource for cities and citizens interested in improving their government through civic hacking. While writing the book, he discovered his unknown super power of building communities of passionate people. Jason graduated from North Carolina State University and resides in Raleigh, NC with his wife, two kids, two border collies, chickens, lots of tomato plants, and a lazy raccoon somewhere in an oak tree. In his copious spare time, he enjoys surfing, running, gardening, traveling, watching football, sampling craft beer, and participating in local government--not necessarily in that order, but close to it. You can follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets
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6 Responses to A Partial Solution to the Wake County Bus Problem

  1. Manuel says:

    Excellent post and ideas, Jason. Would love for there to be a platform where these things can come together with minimal to no involvement from the city. Empower citizens and let them put together solutions.

    You are an outstanding citizen!

  2. Shibby says:

    Adding this from a Facebook conversation:

    Daniel C. Eckert

    The software is a pretty easy problem to solve. The hard part is finding ongoing funding to pay the cost of the cell signal required to report the location of each bus. In addition to the GPS receiver, each bus would need to have a data transmitter to send its position back to the central server.The retail cost of this kind of data plan would be in the neighborhood of $40-60 per device per month, though a “bulk” discount might be available. At the retail rate, that’s $600 per year per bus. According to this PDF ( https://www.wcpss.net/news/2012_feb7_transportation/120207_transportation-handouts.pdf ) there are about 900 buses in service, so the total cost at a retail rate of $50/bus/month would be $45,000 per month or $540,000 per year. While a half million dollars is a relatively-small percentage of the overall cost of bus transportation, it’s still a half million dollars. In the context of the country trying to save $6-10million by altering routes and downsizing the fleet by about 10%, this could be a harder sell.

    Plus the purchase cost of the equipment involved, the maintenance/replacement of the equipment over time, and any additional personnel required to deploy/manage/support the equipment/system.

  3. Shibby says:

    More info via Reid Serozi.

    Wake County school board members debate putting GPS monitoring units in school buses

    http://blogs.newsobserver.com/wakeed/wake-county-school-board-members-debate-putting-gps-monitoring-units-in-school-buses

  4. Shibby says:

    For full transparency, the bus came at 8:36 am today. I was shocked! but I was also very relieved that I could get on with my day.

  5. As the semester progresses, many parents on the worst routes become so frustrated with poor performance that they give up. Thousands take their kids to school and form car pools because the system is too overloaded and inconsistent. WCPSS transportation drives away “customers” until it can handle the load and appears to work from a management stand point. With 3 kids in the system and a stay-at-home parent, we gave up on morning buses a decade ago.

    Your system would provide usable information to parents to make their choices simpler. At the same time, it would highlight the ongoing problems. Let’ s hope WCPSS is interested in better service, not just the appearance of it.

  6. Pingback: Wake County searching for ways to improve transportation communication | Raleigh's Creative District

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