Every day more than 6,500 students ride the bus to and from school in Manassas. The district maintains 70 school buses that operate across 53 routes.
Student safety is a priority for Andy Hawkins, Executive Director of Finance and Operations at Manassas City Public Schools. This is why he decided to take action after receiving complaints from school bus drivers, parents, and other members of the community about how unsafe the school buses and routes were, especially for children stepping on and off the bus.
In 2017, BusPatrol conducted a stop-arm camera pilot program in Manassas. This revealed that there is an average of 11 stop-arm violations every single day in the school district. The pilot also showed that each school bus is passed an average of 35 times per year, equating to more than 2,450 illegal passes in a 180-day school year across the district.
In response to the frightening number of stop-arm violations, the school district decided to partner with BusPatrol to tackle the issue. This data was shared with the community, city council, and police department to raise awareness and highlight the need for a school bus stop-arm safety program in Manassas.
Modernizing the school bus with advanced safety technology
BusPatrol equipped the district’s entire school bus fleet with stop-arm enforcement technology including interior, rearview, and stop-arm cameras. The school district also opted for an emergency panic button so that student transportation professionals could communicate in real-time with children or an intruder on the bus in case of an emergency.
Speaking about the technology, Hawkins explained: “BusPatrol offered everything. They offered cameras on all of our buses, not just selected school buses, and not only for writing citations. They installed cameras on the inside of the bus, on the back of the bus, on the right-hand side of the bus.
“They gave us the option to have a panic button so that we would be able to talk to the children or an intruder on the school bus in real-time as an incident was happening.
“For example, if a bus driver were to get sick or have a heart attack, we can talk to the children on the school bus until someone can get there. Conversely, if an intruder were to board the school bus, we would be able to see what is happening on the bus and try to talk that person down until the police can get there.
“It also gives us GPS capability so that we can know where those buses are at all times.”
Manassas City Police Department is also thankful for the technology. Traffic Services Officer MPO. B. Mangione explained: “The main challenge for law enforcement is manpower. You have so many school buses out at any one given time that you can’t have somebody watching each bus. Whereas when every bus has a camera on it, it’s much easier to identify the violators.”
How much did the school district pay for the technology? Zero. BusPatrol’s safety programs are entirely violator-funded. This means that the drivers that ignore school bus stopping laws and put children’s lives at risk are the ones that pay for the technology.
A partnership dedicated to student safety
From installation to maintenance to ad hoc queries, BusPatrol remains by the side of Manassas City Public Schools to ensure that students are safe as they travel to and from school.
Hawkins describes the relationship as a real partnership, saying: “Whenever I call BusPatrol, whenever I need them, they’re there. They will always do anything to help me with the problem that I have.
“For example, if we have an incident on the school bus, and I need to have camera footage downloaded, they hop on it. If I need to have some statistics, my account executive will pull it together within an hour and send it to me. If I need to know which streets within our city have the most incidences, where the biggest issues are, they can tell me in a few minutes. Or if we have a problem with the money or with the police, they will come and meet face-to-face to figure this problem out.
“This vendor has done what they told me that they were going to do. They told me that they were going to be partners with Manassas City, and they certainly have been.”
The local police department echoed these sentiments, saying: “BusPatrol is very supportive, and they make it very smooth and seamless for us to do our portion of the program. Even from the court follow up, they provide us with all the documentation, videos, and everything that we need to present evidence in the court.”
Using data to make informed decisions
One of the benefits of the BusPatrol safety program is that it enables school districts to access valuable data. By equipping every bus in the Manassas City Public Schools district, student transportation professionals can identify when and where students are most at risk.
Manassas school district can then inform local law enforcement of high-risk areas. This data helps police to increase their presence where and when it’s needed.
In response to BusPatrol data, the police department added educational signage in high violation areas to change behavior and improve student safety. Traffic Services Officer MPO. B. Mangione explained: “The BusPatrol program helped us to identify two main violations areas. We created large signs for these danger zones, to remind drivers that they need to stop for school buses that are stopped in either direction.
“It’s about continually educating the public so that they’re aware that you need to stop for the bus on the other side of the street. We believe this has been effective in reducing the number of stop-arm violations.”
Has the program been effective?
In 2017, the first year that the program was introduced, 1,803 citations were issued to motorists. In 2018, this dropped by 35% to 1,165.
Last year in 2019, after the cameras were replaced with the latest models, 2,048 citations were issued. This increase is likely to be because the new, higher resolution cameras were able to catch more violators.
Since the BusPatrol safety program has been introduced, the school district has received significantly fewer complaints relating to school bus safety.
Hawkins said: “Bus drivers are very happy. They’re ecstatic about it because they were complaining that a child was going to get hurt for years. We used to receive complaints all the time from parents talking about how dangerous it was for their children to get off the school bus. We haven’t received any of those complaints in years.”
As Public Information Officer Sergeant A.G. (Gio) Barahona mentions: “When it comes to safety, the safety of our children and the safety of our communities, that is all of our responsibility.”
Do you want to prioritize student safety in your school district?
Contact BusPatrol to find out how you can build a safer future for children.