NYC officials are behind schedule on installing GPS on school buses before the new year

This story was originally published on Aug. 8 by THE CITY.

The Department of Education is running late on a legal mandate to equip every yellow bus with a GPS device by the first day of school, THE CITY has learned.

The City Council in January passed legislation requiring a GPS in all 9,500 yellow buses by the time the 2019-2020 school year starts, on Sept. 5.

The sponsor of the legislation, Councilmember Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side), noted the DOE hasn’t awarded a contract yet to provide the devices on buses that serve 150,000 students.

“It’s really not that hard… Putting GPS on things and showing it on an app is like the most basic technology for any app on this planet at this point,” said Kallos. “With a month left before school starts, they’re cutting it dangerously close and I don’t believe they’ll get it done in time.”

DOE officials said they’re finalizing a contract with one of the nine vendors that submitted bids in March, but don’t have a timeline for completing the project.

“Our priority for GPS is installing the right system on all our buses as quickly as possible,” said Miranda Barbot, a DOE spokesperson.

Avoiding Past Nightmares
About 6,000 buses serving special education students were equipped with a built-in model of GPS systems in 2017, but that data doesn’t get shared with families.

The new legislation charged the DOE with implementing a portable GPS-device system in all 9,500 school buses — and with making arrival time information available to education officials and parents.

While City Council members have been advocating for mandatory GPS tracking of yellow buses for years, the issue gained new urgency last year after a series of alarming snafus.

The mishaps included routing and bus delay nightmares that plagued the start of the 2018-2019 school year, and a mid-November snowstorm that kept some students with special needs from arriving home until 4:30 a.m. the next day.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said during a DOE budget hearing at the City Council in March he was more concerned about getting the GPS “right” than meeting what he termed an “arbitrary” but “important” deadline.

“I will not publicly state that it will be done by September because that would mean just accepting what we currently have in place and trying to make it work,” he said at the time.

“We’re going to do it right and that may mean that we may not make the September deadline. But it means that when we implement it, it will be the best in class and the best in market, because I think that’s what our residents deserve.”

The Houston school district formerly headed by Carranaza has been monitoring the locations of its yellow buses using GPS since 2009.

Mom Seeks ‘Peace of Mind’
Manhattan mom Eliyanna Kaiser testified at a City Council hearing last year that her twin autistic sons had spent three hours on a bus to Hell’s Kitchen from their Upper West Side school over the summer.

But she told THE CITY that it’s the daily headaches of buses missing-in-action that would make GPS devices valuable for parents.

“It would make our lives so much easier and safer if I could know where the bus was,” said Kaiser, who works for a law firm that handles special education issues.

“If the bus is running late — even very, very late — I could know where my children are because I can see where the bus is. That brings a peace of mind that’s very important.”

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.