Technology already lets commuters track public buses, trains and taxis. Now, parents can add their children's school buses to the mix.
The daily wait for the school bus with his six-year-old son Mitchell made Mr Geoff Boneham so frustrated that he devised an app to let parents track the location of school buses. If they could tell, in real time, when the bus was approaching to pick up or drop off a child, they would not have to waste time waiting, he figured.
He took a break from his job as vice-president of technology portfolio management at Barclays Capital to work on the app with his wife, Allyson, and a friend, Mr Noel Chetty.
They took more than four months to create and test the MyBusMate app (iOS and Android). They began trials in March. The app requires a smartphone with a data connection and uses Google Maps as well as the phone's global positioning system for its tracking interface.
One version is for the parents; the other, for the bus driver. Schools use a Web-based interface to see details. Each vehicle registers its own driver's account in the driver version of the app, called the MyBusMate Geo Tracker, which broadcasts its location to the parents' version of the app.
The parents' version shows where the school bus is and gives them details of the bus and the driver for the day. A digital manifest lists the children onboard the buses for simplified attendance taking and can be forwarded to schools.
If a family has children who take different school buses, the parents can toggle between separate maps for each child. A built-in messaging system links parents, schools and drivers. The parents can use this to tell the school and driver if a child is on sick leave.
Drivers can broadcast a message to parents and the school to tell them of traffic jams or delayed arrivals, while schools can send notifications in case of emergencies or events.
A shared calendar helps parents, bus operators and schools to plan ahead while pre-arrival notifications are sent to parents when their child's school bus is nearby.
The driver's version of the app sends notifications to the parents automatically when the bus is near their homes.
Once the child has arrived safely at school, the driver uses the app to register the child's arrival. This addresses security concerns, meaning that parents whose children have arrived will not be able to continue seeing the buses' location.
For added security, parents have to get permission to access the app. They must provide details of their children, which have to be verified by the school and the MyBusMate team before they can track the buses.
Putting in all these features was not easy, said Mr Boneham. "We were focused on solving problems around safety, convenience and peace of mind for school buses. While there were solutions suitable for logistics and tracking, none was tailored for school children and bus companies," he said.
Since the soft launch in March, My Bus Mate Pte Ltd has signed up four schools to use the app on more than 10 buses - White Lodge Bukit Timah Kindergarten, ArtsKidz Pre-school, Nexus International School Singapore and Marlborough College Malaysia, a boarding school in Johor Baru.
The app is free to download and use for parents, but schools and bus services must sign up and pay to deploy the MyBusMate service.
Mr Chetty, president and chief technology officer for My Bus Mate Pte Ltd, said it employs a subscription-based pricing model which depends on the number of pupils and the size of the school-bus fleet. The cost per pupil ranges from $5 to $8.
There is also a one-time set-up fee, but the company declined to elaborate.
So far, feedback from parents using the app has been widely positive, said Mr Chetty, with many saying that the app provided them with peace of mind and simplified communicating with schools.
The company said it is currently in talks with several schools to expand the service, and will be rolling out the app to 14 more schools in Singapore in the coming months.
Mr Chetty said the app has also received interest from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and also from India and Australia.
This article was published on May 7 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.
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