Melody Ford with a click of a mouse can find out virtually anything she needs to know about how a Manteca Unified school bus is being driven and what is taking place onboard.
On her computer screen at her district complex office, the Zoran software that makes heavy use of global positioning technology pops up.
Ford, who serves as the district’s director of transportation, wants to find out what a school bus is doing in real time. A map of the City of Manteca comes on the screen. Not only can she tell where the school bus is at that moment and how fast it is traveling but the screen also shares data and where it has been including where it stopped.
“Every time the bus comes to a complete stop, (the exact position and time) is recorded,” Ford said.
Ford notes that if someone complains that a school bus did not stop at a stop sign, she can see if that is true or not. It is typically proven false. The same technology also alerts her in real time if a bus traveling on a roadway with a speed limit of 55 mph exceeds it.
“I immediately get an email alert,” Ford said.
The same technology also records where the bus stopped to let students board. Each student swipes a Z-Pass allowing a digital manifest to be created.
That, however, is not enough security for the preference of Manteca Unified. They are getting ready to switch to new Z-Pass technology that when the card is swiped, an I-Pad issued to drivers will flash up a photo of the student that corresponds with who the card was issued.
Parents can access the same technology using the “ZPass Plus App” to know where their child is in real time. For additional information or instructions on how to download or utilize the application, visit www.mantecausd.net/transportation.
Ford muses that you never know what shenanigans kids will try to pull. The real reason for the upgrade, however, is to make absolutely sure the district can guarantee the safe travel of every one of the 1,900 students that go to and from school each day riding a bus.
“We know everything that is happening on a bus,” Ford said.
That’s not hyperbole.
Ford accesses the on-bus video compiled using a series of three fish-eye cameras. She turns on the audio. You can see and hear everything happening on the bus by simply manipulating the size of the image. At one point she zeroes on a book a young girl is holding with the words clearly visible despite the seat being several rows away from the camera.
If a bus driver suspects some questionable activity or an incident happens, they can tap a button to mark the point in time for Ford to reference. The recordings are also used by Ford when a parent voices a concern or makes a complaint.
The system has led to students being admonished for viewing inappropriate material on smartphones while riding the bus. It has also led to disciplinary action against high school students who were making a drug deal.
There is also a Child Check Mate alarm system designed to make sure no kid is left onboard the bus after the engine is turned off and the keys are removed from the ignition. The bus driver is required to make a pass through the bus checking on and under seats to make sure all kids have gotten off the bus. They must then push a button at the back of the bus once they are done and before three minutes elapse. If not, a loud, sharp blasting sound is made every 5 seconds for up to 30 minutes or until it is shut off.
That is still just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to student safety on school buses.
Each driver is required to do an extensive safety check of their bus before it is taken out of the district yard. It includes taking a ball-peen hammer to tap tires to check on pressure, checking tire tread depth, making sure lug nuts are secure, inspecting water and fluids, looking under the bus and checking the body, opening and shutting emergency exits, checking all of the lights and brakes, checking evacuation windows, plus much more such as checking fire extinguishers, steering, turn indicators, horn, windshield wipers, and more. And for good measure after the 20 minute plus inspection they must make two rolling brake checks before leaving the yard.
If a driver notices a malfunction during the inspection, the bus is yanked and they are given another bus that they will also run an inspection through before it can leave the yard.
“The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road,” Ford said in reference to it being in proper running order and driving safety.
All 52 district bus drivers and the 10 substitute bus drivers have 20 hours of classroom instruction plus 30 or more hours behind the wheel before they are allowed to drive a bus with kids aboard. The state requires only 20 behind the wheel hours.
The bus drivers also receive annual training that if not completed in a timely fashion results in the California Highway Patrol revoking their bus driving privileges
Every bus has full maintenance performed on them every 3,000 miles or 45 days, whichever comes first.
Ford said if a part is showing wear and even though it could easily last for additional weeks on the road, the district takes no chances.
“We replace it then and there,” she said.
The CHP also inspects bus maintenance logs and inspects every school bus on an annual basis.
Mechanic Jacob Bright who worked on various diesels for trucking firms before joining the district two years ago noted that the thoroughness and redundancy of keeping school buses up and running surpasses that the federal and state governments require of trucking firms.
The way Bright sees it that is the only way it can be.
“We’re hauling kids,” he said. “We have to get it right.”
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