Whether you have been tracking your buses for years or are just looking into options, it can be hard to know what’s important to look for. BusWhere has been focused solely on providing the best experience for parents and riders for more than a decade, and we would like to share some of what we’ve learned with you, in the hope that it makes the landscape clearer and gives you specific requirements to focus on as you search for the right solution.
A GPS tracking system and parent app should provide solid, reliable information, easily viewed by administrators and parents. It should make life easier, not harder, and free staff from answering the phones with “where’s my bus” questions. But beyond that:
1. Real-Time 5-Second Updates
Quality is important! If you have used Uber, you know what it looks like to watch a car moving smoothly on a map as it comes to pick you up. Some service providers may try to skimp and save money by sending data from the GPS trackers only every 30 seconds or even once a minute. In that case, parents will see the bus blip from one location to the next, one minute it’s on its way to pick them up and the next it’s gone. Quality reporting is impossible because there’s no way to tell whether the bus stopped, waited for 8 seconds, and then kept driving.
Insist on real-time updates, at least in the range of 5-7 seconds.
2. Automatic Assignment of Substitute Buses
How does the GPS tracking system know which bus is running which route? If the same bus runs the same route every day then you can assign it once and then forget about it.
But what if a bus goes out for service or inspection? What if a driver is out for a week and 2 routes are combined? Do you want to start every day at 6am assigning substitute buses?
BusWhere has patented technology that automatically figures out which bus is running which route. If different buses run different routes every day, your GPS tracking system should be able to determine which bus to lock to which route. If a substitute goes out, it should be assigned automatically so parents get their notifications and aren’t more confused than before the system was installed. If routes are combined then parents should be able to see alternate routes until things return to normal.
Especially for larger fleets, this feature is one that administrators may not even know is an option, and yet without this critical functionality, you run the risk of a new system falling on its face on the very first day of “real” full-scale operation.
3. Thoughtful Design
Have you ever driven a car where you started the ignition by turning the key in the trunk? Or turned on a TV by moving the TV away form the wall and pushing a button on the back? We count on good design to let us use technology without ever being trained on it, based on intuition and the sense that “it just makes sense”. And yet so much software (GPS or otherwise) is so hard to use that hours of training and annual retraining are needed.
Beware of solutions that offer “several days of on-site training.” It’s a nice offer (that you might be asked to pay for) but what you want is something that you can figure out yourself or after 30 minutes on the phone with an account specialist.
4. Relentless Innovation
When you buy software for your own use, you expect it to stay roughly the same, perhaps with the occasional update. Not much will change in the world of word processors or web browsers between August and December.
When looking for a GPS solution for your fleet and your parents, you deserve software that is actively growing and improving. What features have been added in the last week? The last month? How often is the system updated? The app that your parents will use several times a day to track their children is of utmost importance to you; if the company providing the software looks at it as a footnote in some larger transportation management system, they will look at it as “a box to tick”, not as their primary focus.
Look for software that is actively being improved, worked on, and customized to customer requests and requirements.
5. Free Integrations
You’ve paid for ABC Software, and you’ve paid for XYZ Software. Why on earth should you pay ABC and XYZ for their software to talk to each other? And yet in many cases this is how things are set up.
You may decide on a feature-rich routing package that has a weak or non-existent parent app. You may choose to buy a customized Student Management System to track attendance, grades, and which bus students are on. You may even already have GPS trackers on your buses for basic fleet management. A parent app should be able to talk to these systems quickly and easily, and you should not have to pay extra for that privilege.
6. Available and Sympathetic Human Support
Of course nothing will ever go wrong… but if it does, what happens next? As important as the system itself is the team behind it. You should feel confident that when something doesn’t go as expected, you can easily reach someone, open a ticket, and talk to a human being if needed.
7. Free Trials
GPS tracking is complex enough that you really might not know if you have a winner until you try it out. A potential partner should be able to get you one or several sample trackers and do a complete account setup quickly and easily, at no cost to you.
Bottom line: Vendors who are proud of and confident in their product will be happy to do a free trial as the product sells itself. If you can’t try before you buy, consider another solution.
8. No Long-Term Lock-In Contracts
If you’re not happy, why should you have to stay? Names associated with quality like Lands End, Samsonite, Macys, and others will accept returns even when they can’t resell the item. This means they have skin in the game for quality, and if they sell a lemon, it costs them money — which encourages them to keep quality high and returns low.
A service you purchase should be no different. The company you choose should allow you to exit the contract at any time if you’re not happy — which makes them want to keep you happy. This helps build a partnership between you and your provider in which you both want things to succeed not just at first, but month after month and year after year.
9. Mature Software, Mature Team
How long has the company been in business? How long have they had a stable parent app on the market?
Version 1.0 of a parent app will track the bus and notify parents. A company with more than a decade of experience has had years to refine, adjust, and improve the product that you will be buying. What happens in dense city streets with skyscrapers blocking GPS signals? How about rural areas with connectivity problems? How does the app respond if the bus goes into a long tunnel? What are the top user questions and how (from experience) can they be addressed, or even better — avoided?
A mature, seasoned product and team will use their years of experience to give you the best product out of the gate, and let you benefit from years of questions, bug fixes, course corrections, and feature improvements.
10. Smooth and Controlled Rollout
What’s it like to go from a first conversation at a conference to a rollout to a district with 170 schools, 1000 buses, and more than 100,000 students? Can the company you are considering work with you to plan and execute a rollout of any size, whether it’s very small or very large?
Any first-time rollout of a new software platform to be used by thousands of students and parents has the potential to cause disruption and confusion. You should look for a software vendor and partner who can look at each situation individually, and plan a timeline and rollout that matches the commitments made to parents but also manages expectations. Once everything is up and running the GPS app for parents is a game changer that makes life better for everyone involved in getting kids to and from school.