In the wake of a September 2008 incident in which a school bus “disappeared” for five hours in Brooklyn with a group of kindergartners and first graders onboard, a number of City Council members are emphasizing the need for technology to track the city’s 7,000 school buses.
The Councilmembers argue that a real-time tracking system, such as the NYCWiN system that the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) has already built to monitor various city agency vehicles, could have prevented the Brooklyn incident from occurring.
In a September 29 letter to Mayor Bloomberg, Councilmembers John Liu, Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, Michael Nelson, Miguel Martinez and Darlene Mealy accused the Department of Education (DOE) of dragging its feet and failing to install tracking devices after the DOE discouraged “unnecessary” legislation that would have mandated the implementation of a tracking system two years ago.
Now, the Councilmembers say the DOE aims to launch a pilot program for only a small number of school buses, instead of utilizing the current and effective NYCWiN technology employed by other city agencies.
“It is at best a lack of urgency on their part,” Liu, Chairman of the Council Transportation Committee, said of the DOE’s inaction over the past few years. He called the DOE “insensitive and inattentive to parents’ concerns.“
“You gotta picture yourself as the mother of that child, that five year old, for five hours,” said an incredulous Liu, recalling the September debacle. “I’d be going out of my mind after five minutes, in this day and age.”
The Councilmembers contend that the city’s $500 million NYCWiN technology - which relies on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and ground-based detectors to produce real-time tracking data - should be retrofitted into the city’s yellow school buses. The implementation of the existing technology, they wrote in their letter to Bloomberg, “would be far less expensive and faster to deploy than building a new system.”
The faster the better, according to the Councilmembers who have been pushing for a school bus tracking system since 2005.
According to DOE Spokesperson Margie Feinberg, her agency filed a proposal for a school bus tracking system and had to wait for that proposal to be implemented. The DOE, she said, is set to begin a pilot program that will install GPS systems in 50 buses by December of this year. The DOE is also consulting with DoITT regarding possible adoption of its NYCWiN system.
“It has always been our plan [to install a school bus tracking system], and we are always looking for new technology that we can use in our buses,” Feinberg said.
Underscoring the urgent need for tracking technology, Liu returned to the September school bus incident, noting that the bus driver had simply gotten lost. “It could’ve been a thousand times worse, and all for what?” he asked.