CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Close to 1,400 CMS school buses are being tracked every day with GPS technology. The tracker isn't much bigger than the textbooks in your kids' backpack.
CMS says as small as they may be, their GPS trackers are making a big difference in cost-savings and student safety.
"It was 1.5 million dollars we saved the very first year, and it was all because of efficiency," Kevin Devore, a transportation manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
As the routing and scheduling manager, Devore has seen the difference the technology from Synovia Solutions can make. He said specifically they've been able to cut down the miles each bus travels, thanks to the tracker's ability to recognize stops where students aren't being picked up.
Most of the savings are a domino effect from cutting back on the distance each bus has to go.
Across 50 North Carolina districts using the technology, fuel consumption is down an average of 10 percent and miles traveled is down 5 percent.
"We can see the speed a bus is travelling through certain areas. So, as traffic patterns change around Charlotte, we can change the path that the bus is travelling," Devore said.
CMS said the technology isn't just cutting back on break-downs thanks to maintenance alerts and monitoring. It's also a tool to keep students safe. Real-time monitoring by fleet managers reduces their distractions.
If something comes up, the tracker will notify the district so the driver doesn't have to.
"If a bus is late because of a safety reason, we don't have to radio the driver to find out the location and have the drivers pick up the radio and talk back to you. Their focus can be on the road," he said.
The schools say it's also providing a sense of security for the parents. They often receive phone calls when a bus is late to drop students off at the end of the day.
"The concern might be, what is going on with my child because the bus didn't stop at the exact time it's supposed to. I think it provides a little bit of assurance for parents that we know what's going on with their child," Devore said.
They can see exactly where the bus is located, and how long until it arrives.
With the ability to track students in real-time, NBC Charlotte asked whether the district believes it's safe for students.
"I think that as long as you can protect who is accessing it, I think it's a great tool," Devore said.
The safety concern surrounding students' whereabouts is why they've chosen not to enable a mobile app feature that's offered. It would allow parents to be notified when a student arrives at school safely, and when they get back to their bus stop at the end of the day. Devore can see the benefits of the app.
"We like that application and that future technology. With that ability, it may cut down on calls especially on cold or inclement weather days, for parents to know, hey I don't have to go stand in the rain for 10 minutes," he said.
But, he said, security will always come before convenience.
"We want to feel comfortable and know that the people who are accessing that, are the people we want to access it," he said.
As for the bus drivers, some were a hesitant about the technology at first.
The trackers are holding drivers accountable for their daily tasks; they record when stop arms are used, speed, and idling time.
They've begun to serve the bus drivers, however, in validating their actions to solve disputes between drivers and parents.
"A lot of times people see this large, yellow school bus coming up the road and because you hear the sound you immediately think this bus is speeding. In rare cases, it is," Devore said.
Synovia allows them to type in a bus number and look at historic data on its path and behavior. Devore said never before have they had the ability to really answer parent and public questions with real, concrete information.
"What this allows us to do is go back and look and then speak to the public and say hey, the bus is actually travelling about 23 to 25 miles per hour, but we will keep an eye on this bus in this particular area," Devore said.
If any community member has questions about the technology or concerns about a bus or student on a bus, Devore welcomes them to call the transportation call center at 980-343-6715.