South Florida

Wi-Fi, GPS now on many Miami-Dade school buses

More than a thousand buses in Miami-Dade County are being prepared for the launch of the new school year, with new programs being offered for students and parents.

Considered the largest school bus system in the world, an estimated 1,300 Miami-Dade County school buses took off Monday, preparing themselves for the nearly 60,000 children they will be taking daily during the school year starting Monday.

“Reawakening of sleeping giant from its summer nap. We’ll be running about 1,000 bus routes every single day in MDCPS,” said Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

The complicated production needs a practice drill to make sure buses are working, drivers are familiar with their routes and pilot programs are tested.

“It’s not about how many miles we travel. It’s about how safely we travel those miles,” said Carvalho.

As they prepare for the new school year, there a couple of new features to the buses meant for the parents and the students.

The transportation department’s Wi-Fi-on-the-Go program will have mobile “hot spots” on district-owned school buses for students going to and from school. The department says it allows students the opportunity for “mobile learning.”

“I think it’s great. We need something that can keep the students entertained while they are traveling,” said bus driver Phyllis Leflore.

There are also special filters in place to keep students from spending all of their time on social media.

“The Wi-Fi that’s installed in these school buses goes through a server that restricts access to non-approved sites,” said Carvalho.

Another program for students is the “Flex Stops” program, which will help transport magnet students who do not live in the designated transportation service zone but are near a bus route with available seating for them. The way this program works is students who don’t live in the area will have another stop near a school or a park. From there, another bus will pick them up and take them out of the area, nearer to their homes. The program will be established based on the number of magnet students in the area.

A new GPS Bus Pilot program will allow the transportation dispatchers to track the whereabouts of buses.

“It actually will tell us where the bus is located every 30 seconds of a particular corner or street, if it’s delayed in traffic, what speed is it going at,” said Orlando Alonso, administrative director.

Soon an app will be available for parents to monitor their child’s bus.

“We’re bringing peace of mind to the parents, comfort to the kids, and we’re keeping the kids connected to learning as they travel Miami-Dade to get to school,” said Carvalho.

By the end of this school year, the district said its fleet of buses will have traveled over 18 million miles.