New school bus route software will have an app for parents

Mike Christopherson

Crookston Public Schools parents with kids who ride the bus starting this fall will have a convenient new tool at their disposal in the form of an app on their phone that will keep them in the loop on everything things they need to know, like if the bus will soon be at their kid’s stop, or if it’s running late, etc.

After talking about it off and on for years, the Crookston School Board this week finally took the plunge and OK’ed the purchase of bus route software that will not only be handy for parents, but the bus drivers themselves as they make their way around town and in rural Crookston on their routes.

Hopefully, the school district will have enough drivers to take advantage of it; board chair Frank Fee noted this week that the shortage of drivers has become “more dire,” with more drivers quitting. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” he said.

The shortage has been so acute over the past couple of years that Highland School Principal Chris Trostad frequently drives a bus, as does Rick Niemela, the district’s transportation and buildings/grounds coordinator. Superintendent Jeremy Olson has been known to get behind the wheel of a bus himself from time to time. He said the new bus route software, with its voice-navigation capabilities so the driver doesn’t have to look at a small screen, would be especially welcome by him when he’s on a route.

“Someone like Rick (Niemela) knows the whole town, but someone like me, I get in a bus and I have no idea where I’m going,” Olson said. “…It’s expensive; I’m not crazy about spending this kind of money, but we see value-added and a comfort level of knowing where you’re going, because you can’t always find a house number.”

The software will cost $11,128 the first year, and $8,628 per year after the first year. Niemela said there are 15 to 18 companies that provide a similar product and service, but after researching the possibilities, he’s confident the chosen company and its product is a good fit with Crookston schools.

The software could be especially valuable this particular school year, too, with routes likely to change frequently with high school students on a hybrid educational model, and other transportation-related uncertainties potentially looming because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parents might appreciate it the most, Niemela said.

“The parent app that comes with it, they can set it up in all kinds of ways so that they get alerts that they want,” he explained. “They can find out how far the bus is from their house, or if it’s running a little late, or maybe it got stuck in the snow.”

If routes are changed, he said parents would be notified via their app, too. They’d also receive emails and/or texts with information as needed.

“There are a number of options to make this work pretty easy for parents,” Niemela added.

With the new software and the construction continuing on the district’s new bus garage/transportation facility to the north of Highland School, it’s a big year for transportation in the district. Niemela said if the current construction timeline holds, the new facility will be ready for the district to start moving in on Dec. 31, 2020.