GPS system launched for special-ed school buses in New York City

After years of demands from parents and advocates, the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) is equipping its school buses with GPS devices. The first phase of the plan, which was launched this school year, installed units on all special-education buses. The second phase, slated for next year, will cover general-education buses.

The GPS devices allow OPT to monitor whether buses arrive on time, which schools or stops cause delays, and where to send replacement buses during breakdowns. Parents do not have access to GPS information for security reasons, said OPT, but the trackers enable OPT to inform parents about bus locations without having to contact bus companies.

“It’s going to change our world,” said OPT’s Ed Jacobsen, who leads workshops for schools and parents to familiarize them with OPT’s procedures. According to Jacobsen, almost all 6,000 special education vehicles are GPS-equipped.

Adrian Clarke, an OPT employee who spent this past summer working on the GPS launch, said that he and a colleague have taught more than 10,000 bus drivers and attendants how to use the systems. Unlike consumer GPS devices, these require drivers to log in and input information about ridership at each stop.

In 2015, Staten Island’s Community Education Council 31 presented a resolution to the Department of Education to mandate GPS devices on all contracted school buses. Supporters of the resolution have waited two years for OPT to act.

According to Jacobsen, delays have been due to challenges with identifying the appropriate GPS device, managing installation, and dealing with the number of buses.

Juliet Weissman, whose children have taken the school bus for six years, has been outspoken about the lack of GPS systems.

“I don’t understand why I can track an Uber … but I can’t track a bus that I’m entrusting with my child,” said Weissman.

“Why does there seem to be no modern technology involved in this realm?” said Patty Goldman, a mother of two kids who take school buses.

Larry Berman, Head of Operations at BASIS Independent Manhattan, partners with a company called Affordable GPS to give parents access to school buses’ GPS locations.

Schools that choose to contract their own bus companies rather than receive free services through OPT can grant parents access to tracking. Larry Berman, who manages student transportation independently of OPT for a private school called BASIS Independent Manhattan, has partnered with a company known as Affordable GPS.

“It takes away all the guessing games,” Berman said, because parents can locate the bus through a link sent by Affordable GPS. Each family pays $3,400 annually for bus services from the school.