BAR HARBOR — Over the next few months, Eric Hann, operations manager for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, will be testing a school bus routing and management software product called Routefinder.
He aims to implement it at the start of the new school year in September.
“It knows students’ home addresses, plotted on a map, which helps us find the best route to go and pick them up and get them to school,” Hann said. “It will be really good information so everybody can get back and forth on time and not miss the bus.”
He said it also can help reconfigure routes for the greatest efficiency.
Hann said he doesn’t want to implement the routing and tracking software until he is sure it works.
“So, we’re going to do a lot of testing and training. I want to make sure all the drivers to feel comfortable with it.
“It will give us the ability to track the buses while they’re on the road,” he said. “Right now, the high school has no way to communicate with the bus drivers. The others have radios.”
The basic software package is offered free to school districts across the state by the Maine Department of Education, but a couple of features have to be purchased. One feature that Hann hopes to be able to use is called Stopfinder. But he said it might not work here because of the spotty cell phone service on Mount Desert Island.
“It’s a free app on a parent’s phone, if they want to have it, that will keep track of where the school bus is and alert them when the bus is, say, 5 miles away,” Hann said. “This way, you can get the child out the door and down by the road in time to meet the bus.”
Swan’s Island van
A high school van picks up students from Swan’s Island at the ferry terminal in Bass Harbor every weekday morning and takes them to the high school, then takes them back to the ferry in the afternoon.
“We have a school bus that goes by there,” Hann told the high school board. “It’s not that I want to get rid of the van, but maybe we could use it somewhere else.”
Owning the buses?
Several schools in the district own and operate their own buses. But Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor and Trenton Elementary contract with Cyr Bus Line for student transportation.
“We’re spending a lot of money on that,” Hann said. “We’re going to investigate moving toward [school] ownership of the buses.”