Manatee County's new school bus ID system: Swipe on, swipe off

If you’re a Manatee County student riding this bus this fall, a new gadget is the first thing you’ll see when getting on. The school district will begin testing ID scanner equipment connected to an app to keep parents informed. 

“It will track students, where they get on and where they get off,” said Won Oh, the school district's assistant director of transportation. “As the student comes on the bus, they’ll take your ID card and scan it.” 

The pilot program is set to begin this August, and will be used on about a quarter of the county’s buses. 

“It’s going to consist of at most, 50 buses at this point,” Oh said. “We don’t know exactly what schools are going to be involved.” 

Students will be provided with a white identification card, separate from their school ID. 

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“If they do not have their ID card, they can put in their four- to six-digit specific PIN number, hit enter, and it will come on,” said Bill Wiedeman, the district's lead technician. 

If they get on the wrong bus, the scanner notifies the bus driver immediately, and parents will know too, through the ‘WheresTheBus’ app. 

“Parents call in every day asking where the bus is,” Oh explained. “Obviously that’s a big issue. And with the driver shortages we’re experiencing, not just in our county but throughout the state, that’s always going to be an issue. So we definitely want to use the technology that we have to our advantage.”

FOX 13 reached out to surrounding county school districts, many of which do not have similar technology. 

Polk County said they do not have anything similar. Hernando County used to have a software program that tracked students, but they no longer use it. Pasco County schools say they don’t have the technology, but their drivers have a check-off sheet for when students get on and off the bus. 

Hillsborough County schools says the district has discussed a similar program. 

“We are piloting it on five buses this upcoming school year with traditional and special needs buses,” said Kendra Oesteich with Hillsborough County. “It will be a mock-up pilot program, not used with actual students. Altogether, we operate 837 buses.” 

Hillsborough says they’ll be using tablets with RFID, radio frequency identification. They will use their own cards and software that will integrate with their current routing system that tracks bus locations. 

If Manatee County’s pilot programs goes well, it will cost the department $56,500 to outfit all 230 buses with technology.