Boston has developed a free mobile app that quickly and securely lets parents see where their children are during storms. The cross-sector partnership, which tracks school buses rather than individual children, was born out of a particularly bad series of snowstorms in 2010, which cut power almost city-wide, jammed traffic and delayed buses by hours, leaving parents in the dark about their children’s whereabouts.
Results & Impact
The Where's My School Bus app tracks the location of public school buses – which are late 14% of the time – and is used by more than 1,000 parents a day
Boston Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics, Boston Public Schools, Code For America, Zonar, Vermonster
The app tracks Boston school buses using GPS technology, allowing parents to access their child’s location quickly and securely. Parents can log into the app with three pieces of personal information: the student's last name, ID number and date of birth. Boston Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics recruited partners to develop the project and worked with Boston Public Schools to beta test with parents. Code For America built the first version of the app, and Zonar provided GPS services
Cost & Value
The City of Boston paid $25,000 to build the second version of the mobile app
Running since 2011
Fears about data security were parents' primary concern. Code for America worked closely with Boston Public Schools to ensure safety and privacy, and the app was vetted with school district lawyers before going into circulation
Zonar, the app’s GPS provider, has since released its own version of Where’s My School Bus, ZPass+, in the Freeport School District of Sarver, Pennsylvania
Boston has created a free mobile app that lets parents see where their children are during snowstorms. The app, which tracks the location of public school buses – which are late 14% of the time – and is used more than 1,000 times daily.
Where’s My School Bus is a GPS-enabled mobile app that quickly and securely communicates student bus locations to parents. Parents can access their child’s location with three pieces of personal information: the student’s last name, ID number and date of birth.
In 2010, the East Coast of the US was hit by a series of snowstorms that cut power almost city-wide, jammed traffic and delayed school buses by hours, leaving parents in the dark about their children’s whereabouts.
Chris Osgood, the then-co-chair of the Boston Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) was at the Boston Public Schools’ (PBS) call centre during the 2010 storm when he realised how much easier it would be for parents to access their kids’ locations themselves with an app. MONUM, Boston’s innovation team, pilots experiments to improve city services through cross-sector collaboration.
A year after the storm, the city agency partnered with Code For America, a civic tech organisation, to build Where’s My School Bus. Code For America built the first version of the app in partnership with MONUM, Boston Public Schools and GPS provider Zonar. The app’s development took only six months.
MONUM led the partnership by recruiting partners and working with BPS on beta testing and other logistics. BPS connected developers to the bus GPS provider, Zonar, which supplied developers with crucial transportation data. The school system liaised with parents to determine needs and concerns, forming three groups of beta testers who had a significant say in the app’s development.
Fears about data security were the foremost concern for the working groups. Parents worried that if the app was hacked, sensitive data like the identity and location of minors could be misused. Code for America worked closely with the BPS transportation team to ensure safety and privacy, and the app was thoroughly vetted with BPS lawyers before going into circulation.
When the app was ready to scale, MONUM issued a Request for Quotation to find a developer to build a more robust platform, which led the partners to Boston application software firm Vermonster. The city and BPS invested $25,000 to enhance the app with a more user-friendly interface. Vermonster is in the process of building out new functionality, like travel time estimates.
Zonar, the app’s GPS provider, has since released its own version of Where’s My School Bus, ZPass+, in the Freeport School District of Sarver, Pennsylvania.
(Picture credit: Flickr/Andrew Brown)