Program puts GPS in buses

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Michael Shinn calls it a "peace of mind" for parents that fits in the palm of your hand.

Using cell phone technology, the Richmond County transportation director says, could make Richmond County school buses safer, increase efficiency and reduce costs. The county is piloting a program that puts Sprint cell phones with global positioning systems in buses.

Transportation officials are working through the kinks with nine buses and learning how they can best use the technology.

Mr. Shinn said he can already see the advantage of using GPS for monitoring the timing of routes, giving directions to lost drivers and being able to tell parents exactly where their children are.

The technology can also send alerts when drivers speed, go outside of a particular area, sit idle for a length of time and begin or end their routes late, said Rocky Cross, a Sprint business consultant working with Richmond County.

The devices are ordinary cell phones although the calling feature isn't enabled. The phones can be affixed inside a bus with hands-free speakers so drivers can keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, Mr. Cross said.

The transportation department currently communicates with drivers using an old FM radio system. Sitting atop a hill, the department gets great range, reaching Waynesboro and Thomson, but the transmission is crowded with one channel, Mr. Shinn said.

Columbia County piloted GPS devices last school year and is installing them now in all its buses, Transportation Director Dewayne Porter said.

"It's a good tool for any transportation director to have," he said. "My question to anybody is why would we not do this."

UPS and FedEx use the same technology to tell customers exactly where a package is at any time, Mr. Porter said.

"I personally think our students are far more important than anybody's packages," he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.


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