Students to get new scannable bus passes
Try them out at First Riders' Night
Saturday, Aug 23, 2014 06:00 am
City students will head back to school this fall with some high-tech bus passes that will help worried parents track their locations.
The Greater St. Albert Catholic and St. Albert Public school boards are rolling out a new electronic bus pass system this school year. The system will let staff and parents keep tabs on where and when students board and leave a bus.
The new passes replace the old paper ones that each district issued every year, said Lauri-Ann Turnbull, transportation supervisor for the Catholic board.
“They almost feel like a credit card.”
The pass system is known as the Zonar Z Pass and uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, said public board transportation manager Kris Salerno. RFID tags are small antennae that can be read by scanners.
Salerno and Turnbull said it cost each board between $22,000 and $30,000 to get the system, not including the ongoing monthly fee. The cards cost about $2.50 each, while the scanners run for about $150.
To use the system, students simply wave their bus passes within about a foot of a scanner on the bus whenever they board or leave.
Each time they do, a unique six-digit ID number along with the time and location of the scan will get transmitted back to the Catholic or public school district office. Board administrators will be able to use that data to figure out how many students are on their buses and where and when they depart.
“I think it will alleviate a lot of the stress that comes up when a student gets off (a bus) at a different stop,” Salerno said. It will also let the district know which students are on a bus during a collision.
Salerno said the cards do not contain any personal information, and that any data they transmit gets stored in a secure database.
“The only person who has access to the data is myself,” he said.
Parents must also prove they are the legal guardians of a child before any data on a student’s movements gets released.
Students will keep the same pass and pass number for their entire school career instead of getting a new one each year, Turnbull said. Instead of mailing out thousands of paper passes and bus routes, administrators will be able to reallocate passes electronically and send the bus routes out by email or mail.
“It’s more environmentally friendly and at the same time gives us a real added safety measure,” she said.
Salerno said the passes could last for many years, depending on weather and student habits, potentially reducing costs.
Replacement passes will cost about $10, Turnbull said. Non-functional ones will be replaced for free.
Drivers will still do their regular head-counts as well to keep track of students in case the scanners don’t work, Salerno said.
The Sturgeon School Division is not using electronic passes but is studying the technology, said superintendent Michèle Dick.
First Riders’ Night
Students will get to test drive these passes next week as part of First Riders’ Night – a free annual event that teaches students and parents about bus safety.
While the public (formerly Protestant) board has held such events for about 12 years, Turnbull said this is the first time that the Catholic board is also taking part in it.
“Parents are a little nervous about their kindergarten children and sometimes Grade 1 (children) riding the bus for the first time,” she explained. This event is meant to give them a chance to try out the bus and learn its safety rules.
The Catholic board’s St. Albert event is from 5:30 to 6 p.m. this Aug. 25 at Neil M. Ross. Morinville and Legal students will have their event at Notre Dame Elementary at that same time on Aug. 26.
The St. Albert Public board is holding its First Riders’ event at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School this Aug. 28, with sessions at 4:30, 5, and 5:30 p.m.
First Riders’ Night features a safety video on buses, an overview of a bus’s blind spots and a trial ride on a bus, Salerno said. New this year is a demonstration of the electronic pass system.
Call 780-460-3712 to register for the public board event and 780-459-7711 for the Catholic one. Callers should specify which session they want to join.