The Chinook School Division has created a new administrative policy that sets out the procedures for the use of global positioning system (GPS) devices on division owned vehicles.
The new policy on GPS devices was approved by trustees during a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, May 11.
Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin provided details about the policy during a telephone interview with the Prairie Post, May 19. The policy has been put into place to guide the monitoring of GPS devices already installed on division owned vehicles.
“What we wanted to do was to formalize a random audit procedure, so there could be a random audit of a GPS data log for any particular vehicle at any point in time,” he explained. “It's really a part of our overall risk management strategy to mitigate risk. Right now, we hadn't ever really looked at the GPS data logs unless there was some sort of a complaint. That was the only real use for them, and so now this is just a random audit. It’s like a quality assurance audit that may happen on a vehicle once every several years or it may not, it's all a totally random activity.”
GPS devices have already been used on division owned vehicles for about nine years and this policy establishes a clear framework for procedures that will be followed during random audits. Until now these devices have been installed on about 45 vehicles and the benefits have already been evident.
“It's useful in that if you get a complaint about speeding or erratic driving or something like that, you would be able to look at the data to see if that is a legitimate complaint or not,” he said. “It's useful if the vehicle may happen to break down, and you can pinpoint the location. So that would primarily be most of the uses.”
He noted that the school division only receives about two or three complaints a year about a division owned vehicle.
The GPS devices are currently installed on 15-passenger vans, maintenance vehicles and driver training vehicles. According to Quintin the school division has not yet installed these devices on school buses for two reasons.
“One, it costs a lot of money, and roughly $30,000 to $50,000 per year to deploy on our buses,” he said. “So our budget just have not been able to support that right now. The second one, we don't have comprehensive cell coverage. There are areas of Chinook where a GPS would not be able to connect, because of the lack of cell coverage.
The school division’s intention will be to eventually install GPS devices on school buses, but for the moment the budgetary realities will not make that possible.
“It a long-term plan, but it's one of the things of our budget dilemma that it's just beyond what we can justify right now,” he said.
The new policy refers to several benefits to install GPS devices on school buses, including safer transportation for students in rural areas, and assisting the transportation department to monitor route times and distances.
“Buses are like a huge billboard,” he said. “So everybody sees them and we will get calls, questioning why they may happen to be in a particular location. That is one of the reasons that we would have that in place for inappropriate use. The other one is, it's data that we need to submit to the government for funding. So it would help us to get accurate data on distance and travel times.”
The installation of GPS devices will have the option to enable additional functions, but at a cost. The basic package makes it possible to obtain data with regard to location and speed. An additional feature will provide mechanics with information to remotely diagnose causes for mechanical breakdown and another feature will include data on daily circle checks of vehicles.
“You can actually put devices on buses that would be connected with a handheld device that a bus driver would have, which would prove that the bus driver has gone around to the various locations on the bus to conduct a circle check,” he said. “It would upload that data to our system, if we enable that. We don't have that right now.”
The new policy determines that all vehicles with GPS devices will be clearly marked to indicate the presence of this device.
“In particular with the 15-passenger vans, you could get different people driving them,” he said. “Obviously they would have gone through our training process to drive a 15-passenger van, but there could be different people driving that van at any point in time. It's just a matter of making sure that everybody is aware that it's on the vehicle.”
The GPS logs are created each time a vehicle is in motion. The policy indicates this data can be used for two purposes. It can be used to provide evidence in cases where complaints have been received from a member of the public about the manner in which a vehicle has been driven. The log data can also be used in a random manner for audit purposes as part of the school division’s overall risk management plan for division owned vehicles.
The policy determines that access to GPS data logs will be restricted. The director of education will designate a specific person or persons to conduct a random audit. The superintendent of human resources or a designated person will have access to data logs to investigate a complaint.
The GPS data logs for vehicles will be stored for a period of 12 months. In a situation where the GPS data will be used as evidence in a legal case, the log will be transferred to a hard copy and retained at the division head office.
Quintin said the use of GPS devices on vehicles are already in wide use in other school divisions.
“It's quite common,” he mentioned. “We're probably lagging behind other divisions, and I think the biggest reason why is the lack of cell coverage.”
The future installation of these devices on more division owned vehicles will be determined by the availability of funding, but he felt it is a worthwhile expense.
“As with most risk mitigation cost, it's hard to place a good value for money on that, because you're hopeful it prevents something bad from happening, which would be a cost if it did happen,” he said. “And so it would be subjective at best, but on a subjective level I would say yes, it has value.”