Esri Ireland today announced that the Education Authority of Northern Ireland (EANI) has employed its digital mapping platform to allow families to quickly and easily apply for school bus transportation for their children. Esri Ireland developed an app for EANI, which, since being rolled out nationally, has been used to process nearly 25,000 applications.

Among its responsibilities, EANI ensures the provision of primary and secondary education services to young people in Northern Ireland. It also facilitates transportation for pupils who live more than a stipulated distance away from their school. Around 90,000 children throughout Northern Ireland are eligible for free transport on school buses.

Prior to development of this app, all applications were submitted in writing, requiring EANI employees to process approximately 25,000 applications every summer. This was an extremely time-consuming process, which involved measuring the walking distance to school for each individual applicant on paper-based maps or walking the shortest route to establish eligibility for travel.

EANI recognised that this method was no longer sustainable and went to tender for a partner that could develop a web-based alternative. Esri Ireland won the tender and set about developing an app on its ArcGIS software platform. The resulting app integrates live Ordnance Survey map services and address data from Land and Property Services (LPS).

This allows parents to quickly and easily find out if their children are eligible for transport assistance and submit their application online. As well as this, the ‘Find my Route’ function, which contains over 2,000 digitised bus routes, allows parents to view the journey that their child will be taking to school.

When parents submit their application, the app uses Esri’s ArcGIS platform to calculate walking distances from their home to their child’s school. This allows EANI to immediately establish whether or not the child is eligible for transport and parents are provided with this information immediately. The app greatly reduces the number of applications that have to be manually reviewed by EANI staff, and will save employees up to 58 days per year.

Dale Hanna, transport manager, EANI, said: “The development of this app has completely transformed the application process for school transport. We formerly used paper maps to assess the eligibility of applicants and technology really wasn’t at the forefront of the process. Esri helped us to join the dots and enabled us to provide parents with a much faster and more convenient way to apply.

The feedback from parents has been great so far, proven by the fact that we’ve already received 20,000 applications since rolling out the app. As well as this, the app has reduced bottlenecks, enabling us to receive applications much faster and give parents the result of their application in real time.”

Jonathan Irwin, NI customer success manager, Esri Ireland, said: “We were really impressed by the Education Authority’s vision for a new application process when they first approached us about this project. Now that the app is up and running and available to parents throughout Northern Ireland, it is having a really positive impact and contributing to making people’s lives easier. It’s a terrific example of the power of digital geography.”

In recognition of its achievement in developing this app, EANI was awarded with Esri’s Special Achievement in GIS (SAG) Award on July 12 at the annual Esri User Conference in Dan Diego. Selected from over 300,000 eligible candidates, the Education Authority received the award for its innovative application of technology, data collection, geospatial information visualisation, and thought leadership through GIS in the field of education.