March 2018 - The AISD transportation department is making significant headway this year in getting Zonar up and running.
Zonar is a tracking system that registers when students get on and off their school bus. Funded by the 2014 Bond and now installed on all AISD buses, it also includes a GPS component that allows the transportation department to know where its buses are at all times.
“The system is an added safety for our students and a peace of mind for our parents and guardians," said Tim Collins, AISD director of transportation.
Installing the system on buses was the easy part. The process of rolling the program out to students is much more involved.
The student riders each get a new “Z-Pass” ID badge, which has a little chip inside. When they get on or off the bus, they wave the ID badge near the Zonar reader at the front. A beep and green light confirms the card was read, and the time, date and location of where the student got on and off the bus is recorded immediately in a secure database, accessible only by the transportation department.
Debbie Swenson, AISD transportation systems and technical analyst, is leading the campaign to get each of the AISD’s approximately 11,000 neighborhood bus riders badged.
“It is a huge undertaking,” Swenson said. “We’re being meticulous and doing it right. We’re being very careful to make sure every student who should get a badge gets one.”
Swenson and the transportation department are focusing first on high schools and then junior highs, which represent the majority of student riders. First Swenson hosts an assembly at each campus to explain how Zonar works and to collect information on all the riders. She then reviews the list of students and ensures every eligible student from that campus is included. Finally, ID badges are issued to the students.
Swenson has now held the assemblies at all of the AISD’s traditional high schools. Students at Arlington, Martin, and the Career and Technical Center have received their badges. Badging is currently underway at Lamar and Sam Houston and is coming soon at Seguin and Bowie. Students at Bailey and Gunn junior high will also receive badges soon.
Swenson is aiming to complete all high schools and junior highs this academic school year, and then complete all elementaries next year.
It's a big process, especially since Zonar is just one of three new software systems the transportation department has recently adopted.
The department went live on the first day of school in August with a new routing software called Versatrans.
“It’s phenomenal,” Swenson said. “This is way beyond the system we were using before."
Versatrans includes so much more detail and allows for the creation of more efficient bus routes. It also helps determine the eligibility of students to ride the bus based on their home addresses.
In addition to Versatrans and Zonar, the AISD transportation department recently implemented Bus Bulletin, a notification system that sends alerts when there are bus delays and schedule changes. It was rolled out last spring for schools so they would receive notification of bus changes in a timely manner. Then in January, the parent portal went live, which allows parents to receive the notifications specific to their children’s bus. Parents can sign up for text alerts, phone calls or emails. To sign up, visit the Bus Bulletin parent website.