For the first time in decades, spanning some three generations of students, Harford County Public Schools is not releasing a complete list of school bus schedules for the 2015-16 school year, which will begin on Aug. 27, nor will the schedules appear in The Aegis.
Instead, this year students and their parents are being directed to the school system's website to use a new Internet portal that works like MapQuest or Google Maps to provide the student's bus route and time based upon the student's address and the school they attend.
The new process using the web-based portal, called infofinder i, breaks with a tradition that dates back to at least the early 1970s when, as a public service, The Aegis published the full bus schedule each summer, and clippings from that edition often became a fixture on many a refrigerator front. The full schedules also were available on the school system's website the past few years.
Infofinder i was rolled out late last week and is operational on the school system's website www.hcps.org.
Through the infofinder i portal, parents/guardians are able to:
• Locate which school their student will attend;
• Find their student's bus number and designated stop;
• Access approximate pick-up and drop-off times; and
• Visualize the route their student's bus will take to and from school.
Upon reaching the HCPS website, the new bus route portal is identified by a school bus icon on the left side of the home page, called "School Bus Locator 2015 – 2016."
The instructions for using the route search are fairly simple. The only required information is the student's complete address, including house number, if applicable. There are other fields that can be entered, for school and grade; however, using the address field only is recommended, Jillian Lader, HCPS manager of communications, said.
Once the student's full home address is entered, his or her school and bus details will appear under the "My Bus Stops" tab, including the school, bus stop location, bus number, pick up time and drop off time. There is a zoomable map feature that shows the bus stop location, the student's home and the full route of the bus to and from the school.
Lader said the data base relates directly to each student registered with the school system, so when an address is put into the portal, it will recognize if there is a student registered at that address. Otherwise, all that will show under the bus stop portal is the school or schools served by the address.
The information is also grade specific, so if there are only elementary age students living at the address, for example, the bus route and stop information will be school specific; however, the middle and high schools served by the same location will also show up.
"We've had a lot of positive feedback," Lader said. "We've also had some questions."
She noted that some people have tried the portal who don't have students registered at the particular address found they only received the school name and not the bus information, which is as designed. She also said HCPS officials are aware that real estate people have been using the new portal to show what schools serve a particular area.
According to HCPS, the new automated bus routing and information management software system was implemented based on recommendations from a recent audit of the HCPS transportation department.
"This evaluation focused on identifying opportunities for improved efficiencies in the delivery of student transportation services," HCPS said in a news release. "As part of the new software, the infofinder i feature provides parents/guardians electronic access to the transportation information for their student(s)."
The software system was purchased for $75,000 from Transfinder Corporation, Lader said.
HCPS is urging parents to access infofinder i to review and verify bus information for their student(s) as many stops, routes and bus numbers have changed during the summer with the implementation of the new routing software.
If transportation information does not display for a student, parents/guardians should call the Transportation Department at 410-638-4092. If a student resides in an area not served by a bus, such as those who would walk, infofinder i will indicate that information, too, Lader said
Lader also said that anyone who does not have access to a computer or the Internet, or who has difficulties accessing the information, can call the above number and "our transportation department is available to assist them over the phone." That also goes if anyone has questions or concerns related to specific bus stops or route schedules.
Because routes are based on estimated fall enrollments, school officials remind parents and students to expect minor adjustments in bus loads and schedules during the first weeks of school in order to alleviate any overcrowded buses.
A depot bus stop system for school bus transportation will once again be in place for all students attending HCPS magnet programs. Students attending the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School, the Global Studies Program/International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Edgewood High School and the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Magnet Program at North Harford High School will be contacted by postcard with their bus information.
Students attending the Alternative Education Program and Harford Technical High School will utilize the consolidated bus stop system and will also be notified of their approximate pick-up time and location by postcard.
John Archer School and elementary Pre-K (for mid-day service) students will be contacted directly via phone regarding their school transportation information, as will all other students riding a special needs bus, both in-county and out-of-county.
Students should plan to be at the bus stop at least five minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.
Students attending the Alternative Education Program and those attending magnet programs should plan to be at their bus depot at least 10 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time. The student's designated depot stop is their home high school in their attendance area, or an alternate authorized high school depot stop.
Students who plan to use bus transportation are encouraged to ride the bus beginning the first day of school to facilitate the establishment of the time schedule and the busload.
The afternoon return time to home for each bus may be later at the beginning of the school year to accommodate students adjusting to new school settings. Once the schedule has been established, there will be a normal drop-off time for each student.
Parents/guardians may review and/or reference transportation rules and policies in the 2015-16 Parent-Student Handbook Calendar at www.hcps.org.