BLOG SERIES: What to Know When Considering a Tracking App // PART 3: How to Manage Parent Expectations

INTRODUCTION

As the industry's leading school bus tracking app and analytics platform, SafeStop is pleased to present our new 4-part Blog Series, What to Know When Considering a Vehicle Tracking App. In this series, we will be sharing our expertise and insight on topics such as how to evaluate your current systems for compatibility with the app your district is considering; realistic timelines for onboarding, implementation, and training; troubleshooting your new app software and integration; how to manage parent expectations, and more.

PART 3: How to Manage Parent Expectations

When considering a school bus tracking app for your school district, it’s important to remember one of the key stakeholders who will use the app daily -- parents. With technologically advanced apps that allow users to follow rides to the minute, it can be difficult to work with parents’ expectations while rolling out a bus app. Transportation departments and administrative officials need to know how to communicate with parents in order to successfully launch an app in their district and receive the best parent support possible.

Acknowledge What's Available: Accept and work with the reality that parents have smartphones with apps that feature real-time updates such as mapping programs with driving directions, or ride share apps such as Uber or Lyft. The information ping rates on those apps allow for up-to-the-second updates that keep the users informed. Apps in the school transportation and telematics industries, however, take slightly longer and may update every 30 seconds. This often creates the first disconnect with parents and should be communicated early in the school bus tracking app search process.

Explain How This Difference Affects Rides: With ride share apps, users can wait until they see the driver show up on their phone before walking out the door or standing at the exact meeting point on the curb for pickup. Since school bus tracking apps have a slightly slower ping rate, parents and students should anticipate the bus arriving soon and go to their pickup points. At the same time, bus drivers aren’t allowed to wait on riders the way that ride share drivers are. Be upfront with parents and let them know that if they wait until the last minute to arrive at the bus stop, their child may miss the bus.

Foster A Collaborative Approach: Ultimately, the goal behind a school bus tracking app is to help parents plan their busy mornings and use the app for an idea of when the bus is arriving. It is not meant to offer perfect timing. Build buy-in with parents by explaining that you’re in this together for the students -- not battling at opposite ends about timing issues. When parents and transportation staff butt heads, two negative situations arise: school buses end up waiting for students, which can delay route times, and unsafe situations occur where children run out to catch the bus at the last second and may not be careful about where they’re running.

Create A Communication Plan: Starting early in the school bus tracking app search process, and certainly before the final rollout of the app, school administration and transportation directors should create a communication plan to explain the app to parents and build their knowledge about it. Create a glossary of terms to make the wording consistent for all stakeholders. Don’t use terms such as “real-time,” for instance, when parents are used to apps that update at this rate. If your chosen bus app updates every 30 seconds, explain this clearly, and parents will understand and follow as long as you communicate this fact consistently from the beginning.

Encourage Questions: Your communication strategy with parents doesn’t stop once you launch the school bus tracking app. In fact, this time is when the best questions begin. Since parents are the daily users of your app, they can also be the best troubleshooters in terms of notifying you when errors appear. Let parents know they are always welcome to send questions through the app, or to contact the school to report a hiccup. Explain that if an aspect of the app seems “off” or doesn’t look right one morning, the odds are that it is, in fact, an error. If a school bus is sitting idle in one location for 20 minutes, for example, then that’s likely a bus receiving maintenance that didn’t get reassigned in the app that morning. Describe two or three mistake scenarios to parents and encourage them to take ownership of their district’s new school bus tracking app by being involved and helpful.