Consolidated bus stops aim to get Prince George’s Co. students to school on time

Prince George’s County Public Schools has unveiled new safety technologies and protocols to make sure students are in their Maryland classrooms when the bell rings — but the walk to the bus stop may be a bit longer.

In a virtual town hall held Thursday, school officials described new technology, such as stop-arm cameras to ticket drivers who fail to stop and new cameras installed on buses, which will provide real-time help in several scenarios.

Although the date that students can return to school for hybrid learning is still unknown, Rudy Saunders, the school system’s director of transportation, said new bus routes are being finalized, to reduce the time students spend on buses, and improve the likelihood of buses arriving at school earlier.

“We’ve had neighborhoods with a high number of stops, a high number of times that the bus had to stop,” Saunders said. “Obviously, each time the bus has to stop, to open the door and let kids on, that takes more time.”

Bus drivers will have GPS-enabled tablets on the dashboard, providing turn-by-turn directions to help along the route — a plus when substitute drivers are behind the wheel.

Consolidating stops will mean some students will have to walk farther than they did to their previous stops, although the county said the new stops will fall within the 1.5-mile limit for elementary school students and 2 miles for middle and high school students.

“We study the potential stops to make sure where students have to walk is not going to be in a dangerous situation, and is not going to create any scenario where there’s potential harm that we need to alleviate, in some other way,” said Saunders.

The school system will roll out an Info Finder System, to assist parents in finding their children’s new bus stops and also provide an opportunity to voice concerns about the location.

For safety, new high-defenition cameras have been installed on the county’s 1,200 buses, which will provide real-time information and communication.

“Being able to monitor who actually got on the bus; this is going to be particularly effective for our younger students and special needs students, to make sure we can track that,” in cases where a child isn’t where a parent expects the child to be, Saunders said.

“If a student is in distress, or there’s an incident,” the cloud-based system will allow school officials to monitor the situation as it’s happening, rather than reviewing a video.

“If we need to give assistance to a driver in case of an emergency, we’re able to do that a lot faster,” said Saunders.

A parent asked how the school system would ensure bus riders were wearing masks to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection when they get on buses.

“We don’t have staff at bus stops,” said Barry Stanton, chief operating officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools. “It’s the parent’s responsibility to take on that safety requirement and monitor their students wearing masks before they get on the bus.”

Stanton said bus drivers would carry some additional masks. Bus windows will be open to maximize air flow, even during winter, but bus heaters will be utilized.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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