New York City’s efforts to modernize school transportation have been dogged by delays — like its buses — but this new effort will allow parents and schools to monitor them.
An app that tracks the real-time delays of New York City’s school buses has itself started to roll out after suffering years of holdups, which city officials blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic and the complexity of the project.
The New York City Department of Education announced that families and schools in one of its public-school districts will now be able to receive real-time updates and tracking information as students travel to and from school on its buses. The app was developed in collaboration with transportation company Via and is part of DOE’s NYC Student Transportation Modernization Plan, which was first introduced in 2019.
The school system’s transportation modernization plan is focused on five areas: upgrading routing, updating the fleet, providing location data about school buses, verifying ridership and providing real-time communications. The city partnered with Via to implement the plan at the end of 2019.
But the modernization project has been beset with delays and problems, dating back to New York City’s first efforts to track its school buses in real time in 2005. A report prepared for the New York City Council’s Committees on Oversight and Investigations and Education for a Nov. 21 joint hearing said that Via began work on the tracking app in September 2019, only to pause in February 2020 and then put the whole project on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Via spokesperson said the pause was necessary to “prioritize the health and safety of students, drivers, and school personnel.” The effort resumed in the 2020-21 school year with small-scale systems testing and a pilot program designed to train drivers with two bus companies on how to use the app, the report said.
“It is unclear why that six-month pause [in 2020] lasted as long as it did; with schools closed, and school buses not running, certain elements of the system obviously could not be tested under typical conditions, but certainly some sort of progress could still have been made during those months,” the report stated. It also described the real-time bus tracking as still being “more than two years overdue.”
The app is expected to roll out to what DOE calls a “subset of families” throughout the city during the academic year, with a full citywide deployment still “forthcoming,” DOE officials said. The agency did not respond to requests for further information on the project by deadline.
The app’s rollout comes as the city’s school buses face chronic delays. The oversight report said the more than 14,000 delays school buses faced in October 2022 was the largest number of any single month in the last five years. Delays in October averaged just over 41 minutes, the report said, with concerns remaining over student safety on the buses, including from unsafe driving.
Local leaders said this tracking system is a necessary first step to improving operations for the hundreds of school buses on city streets and the thousands of students that ride them each day. In a statement, New York State Sen. John Liu, who chairs the Senate Committee on NYC Education, said Via’s platform “will greatly improve the entirety of our student transportation system by streamlining communications between our schools, bus companies and families with near real-time data.”