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Westport-developed school bus app graduates to other communities

Published 2:18 pm, Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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  • Katie Tsang, whose parents Norman and Betty Tsang developed an app to help Westport students and parents track the location of their school bus, exits her bus on on a trip home last spring. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News

    Katie Tsang, whose parents Norman and Betty Tsang developed an app to help Westport students and parents track the location of their school bus, exits her bus on on a trip home last spring.

    Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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If you're a Connecticut student or parent who has experienced anxiety wondering, "Where's our school bus?" Norman Tsang of Westport wants you to know there's an app for that.

Tsang has created a free app for the iPhone and Android called "Where's Our School Bus?" The simple program allows parents and students to check in when they board or exit a school bus, and this information updates the bus' estimated time of arrival for other students and parents waiting along the bus route.

Westport News reported on the program's rollout last spring. Since then, word has spread and parents in others towns called Tsang and expressed interest.

"We've had a lot of people calling and asking us to load their town," said Tsang, a financial investor who developed the app with his wife, Betty, a former teacher at Long Lots Elementary School and Saugatuck Middle School.

Tsang has children at Staples, Saugatuck and Bedford Middle School. Last year his son Tyler was taking the bus to Staples High School, and almost every day the bus was five to 10 minutes late -- and sometimes more.

Any number of factors can contribute to this, including traffic and how quickly students board the bus. Tsang's son came to expect the bus's tardiness, but then one day the bus arrived five minutes earlier than usual. Unaware, Tyler waited 15 minutes before giving up and turning to his parents for a ride to school. He still missed part of first period.

The anxiety of that day prompted his parents to create the free app.

"We thought it could help a lot of people," Norman Tsang said.

This is the first app the Tsangs have created. The success of the app depends on crowdsourcing, so when the Tsangs made it available for download, they told friends and neighbors whose children were on the same buses as the Tsangs' children.

The app was first made available last November and encountered its share of glitches -- including a few times when the app went down -- but it's also evolving as users make suggestions. For example, a message board allows users to post comments -- perhaps mentioning that a bus is late because of traffic, road work or an accident.

Word of mouth has helped expand the use of the program, and Norman Tsang said several hundred students and parents were using the app in Westport by the end of the last school year.

School bus routes are published on the websites of my most public school systems, which allowed Tsang to upload them to the app for this coming year.

"In truth we could do this for the whole country, but we've decided to just concentrate on Connecticut for the time being," he said.

John Ficke, transportation supervisor for Fairfield public schools, said he was not familiar with the school bus app. After learning about its intended use, Ficke said the app could have obvious benefits to students and parents, but he cautioned that some people might use it for nefarious ends.

"I see some possible security issues with it," Ficke said. "In this day and age, there's also the crazies out there, so I would be concerned about it from that standpoint. From a safety standpoint for the kids, someone who shouldn't be watching it could be watching it."

Tsang noted that school bus routes are listed on the Internet and his app is merely utilizing the pre-existing information.

For more information, go to: www.WheresOurSchoolBus.com