Why we did this
Boston winters often involve heavy snowfall. When the snow falls, buses can get delayed. For parents, not knowing when a bus will arrive — or not knowing where their child’s bus is — can be frustrating. Buses are equipped with GPS, but, parents needed to call a hotline to locate a bus.
Due to a limited number of staff and phone lines, when it snowed, the calls to the hotline could be too much to handle. Our goal was to use the existing GPS systems to rethink how to get bus information to parents.
Our hypothesis? Giving parents easy access to school bus locations can help address a constant concern for parents. It will also deepen parents’ trust in Boston Public Schools.
We created a mobile web app in 2011 to help parents easily locate their child’s bus. We partnered with:
- Code for America
- Zonar (GPS Provider), and
- the Boston Public Schools.
The program was designed with security and safety in mind. In our successful first year, we tested the app with three different parent groups. After that, the City and BPS invested $25,000 into the project to improve the app. We partnered with local software company Vermonster and launched an updated version in 2013.
Results and lessons learned
The app is used about 300 – 400 times on a typical school day. There are big spikes early in the school year and during bad weather.Peace of mind
We heard a lot from users. Knowing where a bus is, even if it’s late, gives people better peace of mind. It also gives them an appreciation of the complex busing system.
We heard a lot of requests for new features in updated versions of the app, including:
- an easier sign-in process for repeat users
- an estimated time of arrival for buses, and
- a version of the app tailored for school principals and afterschool programs.
The app is open source and is being experimented with by other school districts.