Share This Page

Baldwin-Whitehall School District bus drivers to use two-way radios

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Two-way radios might seem like a regression in technology to some people. But for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, it's the better option, school officials say.

The school board passed a 6-2 vote last week for a $63,432 purchase of push-to-talk radios for the school buses. School board member Larry Pantuso was absent.

Drivers now use cell phones provided by Sprint at an annual cost of about $30,480. The phones have dropped calls in certain areas, which led to worries about student safety.

“With the cell technology, it hasn't been successful, whether it is user misuse or the topography,” Superintendant Randal Lutz said. “We aren't getting the coverage that we need.”

The problems began when Sprint, which took over previous vendor Nextel, changed the technology, said Tim Winner, the district's director of technology.

“Pretty close to the beginning of this year, Sprint, as a business decision, shut off all the Nextel technology on the towers and migrated customers (other) technology,” Winner said. “We had problems from that point forward.”

Winner has tested both Verizon services and the two-way radio system with the assistance of the transportation department. He also reached out to other school districts for a comparison on services that they use. He said district drivers and transportation managers preferred two-day radios.

The radio system provided by Mobile Radio Service will prevent drivers from having issues in dead spots in many valleys and streets, such as Carson Street, Streets Run Road and Becks Run Road.

The school district will apply for a Federal Communications Commission license to acquire a private frequency wave for the radios. This cost was included in the proposed $63,000 capital estimate and comes with a 10-year contract. By law, the district can renew the license after 10 years at no cost because it is a government use.

After the initial cost and any maintenance fees, the district will save about $15,000 a year after about five years.

Currently, there are 106 cell phones in the district. This number would be decreased to 46, and service would be switched to Verizon. Some phones would be set aside for drivers who take longer trips outside of the radio coverage zone.

Several board members expressed worries about the absence of cell phones in an emergency situation because of the potential for a delayed response.

“It's not a requirement because there are situations when we would not mandate this, but we do require that the drivers call back to the garage,” Lutz said. “It's not our desire to have them call 911. The form of support could be mechanics going out, managers going out or calling 911 from the office. In this day and age, drivers have cell phones.”

Transportation managers and secretaries are required to work staggered shifts between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. so there is someone in the garage at all times. Mechanics and transportation managers also will have portable radios.

Officials agreed that old cell phones can remain on the buses for emergency use only. If a signal is not available, the drivers can use the radio system.

Drivers also can choose between one-to-one or broadcast methods, which would allow them to communicate with all 93 buses in the district.

“It's helpful in instances when there is an impending storm (and) you can do a call all,” Lutz said.

Brittany Goncar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or bgoncar@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.