Original article can be found on School Transportation News.

March 21, 2018

Buses don't necessarily have a reputation as the most innovative transit option around. But thanks to new advances in technology, all that is changing. With features like onboard Wi-FiGlobal Positioning System (GPS), telematics, cameras, enhanced driver support tools, and a greater focus on the passenger experience, next-generation fleets are changing perceptions about bus transit in cities across the country. 

In many of these cities, a decline in ridership has forced public transit systems to take a closer look at how they operate so that they can be more efficient and better meet passenger expectations in today's connected world. While some of the motivating factors may be different for school transportation directors, you likely have similar goals as you explore ways to enhance your bus systems.

Implementing the Next-Generation School Bus

Across the country, increasing safety and security remains a top priority for school buses, along with other important objectives like improved maintenance and efficiency, optimized bus routes, enhanced driver tracking, and simplified communications with parents. At the same time, more and more school systems are also focused on what's happening on the bus itself. This includes not only managing disruptive behavior but also leveraging students' time on board more productively.

Like your counterparts at mass transit systems, you're probably turning to technology to help solve these challenges. Onboard Wi-Fi, for example, allows districts to "extend the classroom" so that students can get school work done while on the bus. Identification (ID) cards allow parents and administration to track student whereabouts. Stop-arm notifications help identify violators, and cameras provide enhanced security both inside and outside the vehicle, while telematics monitor bus status and help maintain the fleet.

With all of these Internet-enabled options now available—and more always on the horizon—it's beginning to seem like the sky's the limit. Technology is giving us powerful new ways to automate, optimize, and enhance all aspects of school bus operations. But in practice, it's not always so simple. In fact, many school transportation directors now face a new challenge: How do you coordinate and connect all these different technologies, tools, and suppliers, especially when your budgets are anything but unlimited?

You need a centralized device that can bring it all together.

As school buses become well-connected vehicles, with telematics to GPS and everything in between, there needs to be a factor that ties all of the technology together. And that connecting piece is Internet access. With Wi-Fi on the school bus, districts get the access they need to keep moving forward in the connected world while saving money and expanding their capabilities to integrate any Wi-Fi enabled solutions. 

Let's take a look at some of the different types of technologies available to the connected school bus, and how you can use them to meet your efficiency, safety, and educational goals.

  1. A router provides the bus with Wi-Fi connectivity, similar to the setup of any non-mobile Internet network. But specific routers need to be used to work effectively in the unique environment of a passenger vehicle and to meet the specific requirements of a connected school bus
  2. Student Wi-Fi.As more school districts implement digital learning initiatives requiring students to complete online assignments outside the classroom, millions of students who lack Internet access at home find themselves caught in the Homework Gap. At the same time, it is estimated that U.S. students spend a staggering 520 million school days on buses each year, according to the American School Bus Council. The Kajeet SmartBus™ extends the classroom to the school bus with safe, CIPA-compliant Internet access for students. Kajeet Education Broadband™ equips school buses with 4G LTE connectivity preconfigured with CIPA-compliant, education-only filters, keeping students focused on schoolwork and not on distractions.
  3. Global Positioning System (GPS) and Routing. GPS technology has become standard equipment in many passenger vehicles today, but it's still relatively new within the school transportation industry. That's quickly changing as districts discover the variety of ways GPS technology can improve bus safety, security, and tracking.

Download the "Connected Bus: 8 Technologies for the Next Generation School Bus" report, which digs further into each of these technologies, including driver tablets, telematics, cameras, student ID cards, and general purpose input/output. 

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