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Unit 5, First Student Prepare For New School Year

Ryan Denham
April Duncan of Normal behind the wheel of a school bus Tuesday, June 25, 2019, in Normal.

After at least three years using bus-tracking capabilities, Unit 5 is looking into its next step.

First Student General Manager Chris Coyle said the busing company is working with Unit 5 to roll out “First View,” a new bus-tracking technology.

“A text message, or actually a push, from First View is pushed out to the parents and lets them know the bus is within five minutes out," Coyle said.

"It's especially important when we get the cold days, that if we're running behind because of traffic and stuff like that, they're not out there standing on a corner.”

Coyle said the tracker benefits First Student too, by showing trouble spots with the route where changes could increase efficiency.

Unit 5 Business Manager Marty Hickman said the district’s current app, “My Stop,” is more general about the bus’ location.

He said the district uses a separate technology to track individual students.

“We have something on the buses called 'ZPass'," Hickman said. "So the students scan when they get on the bus, they scan when they get off the bus. And the district and First Student has that kind of access to see, but it’s not part part of our 'My Stop' app currently.”

Hickman said the district is still in talks with Coyle and First Student about a timeline on when Unit 5 can utilize the newer “First View” app.

Coyle said First Student is ready for the first day of school next Friday, with or without the new “First View” app. He said the district’s Big Bus? No Big Deal event this summer brought in a slew of possible new drivers.

Coyle said drivers must take over 50 hours of training, pass a drug and background check, and have gone at least three years without interruption on their license.

“The importance of having a school bus driver isn't just to get somebody in the seat," he explained. "You want somebody that's caring, is focused on customer service, is really there, understands that they're there to make sure that the child's first face that they see is smiling, and the last one makes sure they have a great day.”

Coyle said many don’t make it out of training; that’s why they are always looking for new drivers.

This Friday is the route bid, when drivers pick the route they want for the year, starting with those that have been with the company the longest.

Practice runs for the 2019-2020 school start Monday to be ready for the start of school at the end of next week.

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