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School Bus Solution Provides App-Based Visibility for Parents

Zonar Systems is developing a real-time alerting system for bus drivers to identify if a student leaves a bus at the wrong stop or boards the wrong vehicle; parents and school districts are already using the technology to track where children enter and exit buses.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 07, 2017

Tens of thousands of school buses, mostly in large urban districts, are equipped with RFID-enabled systems to track the locations of their young passengers. Nearly a decade ago, telematics and fleet-management technology company Zonar Systems released its Z Pass solution for student rider visibility, and the adoption rate has been building. The company plans to integrate its solution into a Zonar tablet as a next-generation version, to further improve ridership visibility by displaying if a student or other passenger leaves a bus at the wrong stop.

For users such as companies offering private passenger service, the firm has now released a lower-cost, non-RFID-enabled version that employs a sensor to simply count the number of riders in a bus or other vehicle without identifying who they are. That spares the company using the system from distributing cards at all—it can simply track the number of bodies passing the sensor as they enter and leave the vehicle.

The Z Pass
The Z Pass system consists of low-frequency (LF) RFID badges that identify each passenger, as well as a Zonar 2020 high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID reader compliant with the ISO 15693 standard. The reader comes with a GPS unit and a camera, provides cellular functionality and is mounted on a vehicle's dashboard. It transmits read data to software on Zonar's own hosted server, which authorized parties can then access via a portal by entering the proper password, says Kevin Mest, Zonar's senior VP and general manager of passenger services.

Without the Zonar technology, the company explains, parents have little visibility into where their children are while being bussed to and from school. A parent looking to determine whether his or her child boarded the correct bus, as well as where that child disembarked, would need to call the student (assuming he or she had a cell phone) or call the school or transportation department. This lack of visibility can become a problem if a student fails to turn up where expected—in some cases, a small child can exit a bus at the wrong stop, board the wrong vehicle or fall asleep in the back of the bus, which may not be discovered until later in the day.

The Rider Verification system
The Seattle-based technology company began piloting the Z Pass system with local school districts approximately eight years ago, and has since sold the product to school districts and bus systems across the United States. According to Mest, a third of the nation's 480,000 buses now use the technology and many are adopting Z Pass.

With the Z Pass solution, students carry an HF RFID tag built into an ID badge that can be carried or attached to a backpack. Although no identification information is printed on the badge, with the exception of a serial number, the ID number encoded on the RFID tag is linked to the student's identification in the Zonar software, on what is called the Ground Traffic Control server.

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