By Doug Clark
Dependable communication is crucial for bus drivers to operate effectively. In the United States alone, there are around 480,000 school buses operating, transporting approximately 26 million students each year. Ensuring the safety of these students is of utmost importance, and studies have shown that students are 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus. Dependable communication enables bus drivers to stay in contact with their dispatcher and quickly relay important information, such as potential hazardous road conditions or any emergencies that may arise during the journey. This real-time communication allows bus drivers to make informed decisions, mitigate risk and ensure the safety of the students they transport.
Many school buses have traditionally relied on two-way radios as their main form of communication. However, as customers consider upgrading from Land Mobile Radios (LMR), which are commonly referred to as traditional “two-way radios,” to more advanced Push-to-Talk over Cellular (PoC) devices, the AT&T Public Sector sales team offers several in-vehicle solutions, including kits with cradles and charging capability. One innovative in-vehicle solution is Siyata Mobile’s VK7 Vehicle Kit which is growing in popularity. Specifically designed for fleet vehicles such as school buses, the VK7 Vehicle Kit uniquely acts as a mobile docking station for the SD7 PoC Handset, providing a modernized communication solution that meets the evolving needs of the industry, and which replaces an in-vehicle or mobile LMR radio.
The VK7 Vehicle Kit is professionally installed in the vehicle, providing a seamless integration for the SD7 Handset. When the bus driver arrives at the vehicle, they simply slide their SD7 Handset into the VK7 Vehicle Kit, which immediately powers on and connects to the handset. This innovative design offers an optimized Push-to-Talk experience while driving, as the VK7 Vehicle Kit includes a built-in loudspeaker with a volume control knob, allowing the driver to hear PTT calls even amidst noisy student environments. Additionally, a wired palm microphone is included for the driver to respond, while the rotary knob on the SD7 Handset enables the selection of PTT channels, with the channel names displayed on the top screen of the handset. The VK7 Vehicle Kit will operate on cold or hot days by regulating the temperature inside the VK7, and the VK7 will recharge the SD7 Handset’s battery when it is inserted. The SD7 Handset can be key-locked to remain in the VK7 Vehicle Kit for an extended time, or when the driver arrives at the destination, they can press the VK7’s Eject button to remove the SD7 Handset from the vehicle kit.
The decision to upgrade from Land Mobile Radios (LMR) to PoC solutions such as Siyata Mobile’s VK7 Vehicle Kit is driven by two significant reasons. PoC solutions work wherever there is cellular coverage, unlike LMR radio networks that have coverage gaps and limited range, usually restricted to city-wide coverage at best. This means that school buses traveling outside their district for field trips or sports events may encounter coverage issues with LMR radios, rendering them ineffective and potentially jeopardizing safety. Secondly, PoC handsets are generally more affordable compared to LMR radios. Siyata Mobile’s SD7 Handset can replace a handheld or portable LMR radio, while the VK7 Vehicle Kit can replace an in-vehicle or mobile LMR radio at a cost-effective rate. In addition to the lower hardware cost, the monthly service fee for PoC solutions is usually less expensive as well. Instead of paying separate monthly service fees for two LMR radios with coverage gaps, customers can now use the SD7 Handset with the VK7 Vehicle Kit and pay a single cellular PTT service fee, providing reliable coverage for their communication needs.
Siyata’s revolutionary SD7 and VK7 devices have already made their mark in the education sector, with school districts embracing their technology. An excellent example is Minnesota Coaches, who have chosen to replace their existing land mobile radio devices with Siyata’s SD7 and VK7 solutions. Currently, Siyata equipment is already operational in almost 90 of Minnesota Coaches’ fleet vehicles. As the deployment progresses, Minnesota Coaches plans to equip the remaining fleet of over 900 vehicles with the SD7 and VK7 devices, demonstrating the widespread adoption and trust in Siyata’s innovative communication solutions within the school district industry.
Tom Severson, Minnesota Coaches’ Chief Operating Officer, shared, “The PTT-enabled Siyata devices are a compelling business solution from many aspects. They enable us to improve communication at a lower cost than our existing tower-based communication solution, and importantly, they reinforce our commitment to safety first. At Minnesota Coaches, safety is our most important product. Siyata’s solution allows us to communicate directly with our drivers regardless of where they are and allows our drivers convoying in multiple buses to communicate more directly with each other, as we transition from limited two-way communication to unlimited two-way communication for our fleets of buses. Our drivers no longer need to rely on cell phones. They are communicating through handheld mics that are safe, legal, and much less distracting. The professionals at Siyata have been highly responsive and dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition. We are grateful for our new partnership and look forward to introducing the service and products to our entire fleet of more than 116 motor coaches and 800 school buses over time.”
It’s encouraging to see school districts and school bus companies like Minnesota Coaches investing in the latest communication technology for their buses because they recognize the tremendous responsibility that they have in keeping our students safe.