School buses get high tech upgrades

ALAMOSA—New software and hardware systems will soon bring Alamosa's school buses into the 21st century. Transportation Director Glenn Sykes shared the technology's multiple features at Monday's Alamosa School District Board of Education meeting.

Sykes has already secured the funding for and implemented Transfider, a tool that computerizes routing information, inventory, service records, driver records and other data.

"The routing component is huge," Sykes said. "It is going to allow us to better plan our routes because some stops are heavily loaded and some are lightly loaded. The goal is to get those spread more evenly so the students are more comfortable and safer."

The software has an electronic field trip request system. Teachers, coaches and club sponsors can easily fill out the required forms and see if buses are already booked on the same day.

Sykes is also working on implementing Zonar GPS hardware in the vehicles. He is running a trial on one bus but if the department is awarded a $50,000 grant then they'll be able to purchase most of the equipment for the rest of the fleet.

Each student will carry an RFID card that is scanned when they get on the bus. The school can tell exactly who is on what bus and where the bus is located in real time. The department will be notified if a student gets on the wrong one.

"It'll help us enforce the safety of kids district-wide, from the time we pick them up to the time we let them go," said Erica Romero, president of the board.

Drivers will also be tracked with Zonar during their pre-trip check. It can tell if the driver went near a specific tire or checked under the hood.

"Now, it's not foolproof," said Sykes. "It's not like we can make them check the oil."

The system can monitor battery levels and send an alert when the check engine light turns on.

"I can be diagnosing the bus while it's rolling down the road," Sykes said, "and can determine if they need to stop immediately or if they can wait till the end of the route to fix it."