The Education Authority (EA) transports more than 75,000 children to and from school each day, using a fleet of more than 820 vehicles. Ensuring children’s safety is a high priority, and the EA has been awarded funding from Innovate UK’s SBRI fund to develop and test new innovative school bus passes and apps. This will enable parents and schools to know whether a child has got on or off the bus. Phone apps for taxi drivers, bus drivers, parents and schools (and pupils) will provide instant messages about delays, incidents, and updates. The project is intending to transform our school transport service to make them smarter, safer and more efficient.
The EA is starting the third phase of this exciting new project and the two successful local companies: Kinsetsu and Analytics Engines have been commissioned to undertake further testing of their solutions. Kinsetsu are working with Torbank School in Dundonald, and Analytics Engines are working with Castle Tower School in Ballymena.
Most pupils at these schools will be involved in the project – although there are some routes from Belfast to Torbank school that will not be involved at this stage. The trial will include children travelling on EA buses and taxis/private minibuses.
If your child is travelling on one of the vehicles involved in the project, you will receive a small fob or card for your child to carry on the journey to and from school. The card or fob will have your child’s initials and bus route on it (in case they lose it) but no other information.
EA buses serving these schools will also be fitted with readers, and all pupils on those bus routes will carry either a small smart card or fob. When a pupil boards the bus, this will communicate with the purpose built electronic reading device installed on each bus, to confirm s/he has boarded the bus. This will enable us to identify:
- The time and the location where the pupil successfully boarded the bus,
- The length of time the pupil spent on the bus; and
- Time and location where the pupil got off the bus.
Apps for Apple and Android phones will enable pupils and parents to have up to date information about their school transport, and to provide feedback. Displays in schools and EA offices will also show real time information about school bus services. It is expected that as soon as the trials go live in November parents will receive a text message or a letter with details of how to download the app to try for themselves.
The drivers on our school bus routes and taxi routes taking part in the pilot will operate their routes exactly as they do at the moment – bus and taxi routes will be not changing.
However, the taxi drivers will have an app on their mobile phone that will enable them to check a child on and off, to confirm they are travelling that day. The bus and taxi drivers will also have an app with pre set messages so they can alert parents, the EA or schools for example if they are running late, or if bad weather means a service is being rerouted or cancelled or if there is an incident. It is hoped this will improve information and reduce the need for phone calls, and worry for parents.
Data protection and security are a priority for the study and all data collected will be anonymised, encrypted, and transmitted and stored securely. There will be no personal identifiable information on the smartcard/fob. The smartcard/fob can only be read by a reader in close proximity, this is similar to the way a contactless payment works. The only information used will be the child’s name, the pick-up and drop-off location for each individual pupil/address, the time of pick-up and drop-off; and the duration of the travel.
The two companies will be presenting an evaluation of their products in March next year. Before that there will be feedback sessions with parents and schools, and with the EA transport staff to understand any problems with the equipment, and how the changes have benefitted schools, drivers, and parents. This will form part of a business case to establish whether the project should be taken further.