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Zum Named to CNBC’s Tenth Annual Disruptor 50 List

We’re excited to announce we’ve been named to CNBC’s 2022 Disruptor 50 list, an annual list honoring 50 game-changing private companies using breakthrough technology to transform industries and build the next generation of great public companies. This comes on the heels of a series of recent recognitions for Zum, including being named a finalist and honorable mention on Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas list and a Gold Stevie winner for The 20th Annual American Business Awards.

We’re proud to join the CNBC list which has included such esteemed companies such as Stripe, Doordash, Airbnb and Flexport as previous winners.

Nominees for the 2022 list were put through a comprehensive and rigorous process of researching and scoring across a wide range of quantitative and qualitative criteria, including scalability, revenue and user growth, and workforce diversity. An advisory board made up of leading thinkers in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship provided weighting for the quantitative criteria, while a team of CNBC editorial staff read submissions and provided qualitative assessments of every single nominee.

Visit the full 2022 CNBC Disruptor 50 list and see CNBC’s write-up on Zum here.

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Zum Recognized for Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards

We’re so excited to share that Zum was recognized for Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards. The awards program recognizes clean technology, innovative corporate initiatives, brave new designs for cities and buildings, and other creative works that are supporting the growth of positive social innovation, tackling social inequality, climate change, and public health crises. Zum was honored in both the Best World Changing Idea North America and Transportation categories and named a finalist in the small business category.

We’re proud to be part of an amazing roster of companies— from startups to enterprises— committed to change, and like us, addressing the biggest challenges of our time.

“Being recognized by Fast Company is a testament to the daily commitment of every member of our team to ensure we drive the future forward.” said Ritu Narayan, Zum’s founder and CEO.

Read the full press release here

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Big News: We’re a Gold Stevie Awards Winner (Again)

We’re so excited to announce that for the 5th time we’ve been recognized as a Gold Stevie Awards winner.

The 2022 competition for the American Business Awards® for Company of the Year received more than 3,700 nominations and we topped the Transportation list in the medium business category! 

The Stevie Awards, launched 20 years ago, honors the accomplishments and contributions of organizations worldwide. As a growing business with a big vision for modernizing student transportation we are feel privileged to be recognized amongst the most innovative startups and large enterprises.

We hope the work we’re doing to provide safe, sustainable and equitable school transportation continues to inspire and positively impact business, communities and the planet.

Learn more about the award and see the full list of winners here.

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School Bus Fleet Age: The Hidden Problem Impacting Schools

How Long Do School Buses Actually Last?

The classic image of the big yellow school bus is timeless. But, like cars, school buses don’t last forever and need to be replaced. From the seats, to the wheels, to the interior mechanics, school buses age just like your own vehicle, if not quicker due to overuse and lack of maintenance. Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep school districts from retiring buses any sooner. The average lifespan of a school bus is 12 to 15 years, depending on the district and size.  

The Hidden Problem with the Age of School Bus Fleets

Think about the last time you saw a school bus. Did it look sparkly and new? Probably not. The average age of a school bus is 9 years or more. In fact, most school buses aren’t retired until they are 15 or 16 years old on average. If you think 16 years sounds old for any vehicle, you’re right. 

Old school buses pose problems for everyone. With aging fleets, school districts need more technicians to fix issues. School Bus Fleet (SBF) found that the average ratio of school buses to technicians has steadily increased over the years, adding an extra technician per bus every single year.  Not only that, but drivers are always waiting for the next mechanical failure (as well as being fearful for their own safety). And parents aren’t too thrilled about their kids riding in ancient clunkers that pose tons of risks. 

Aging School Buses are a Systemic Problem

Aging school buses are a growing problem nationwide. About one-fourth of operations are actually buying used school buses to replace older models, instead of purchasing new vehicles. In South Carolina, for example, numerous stories have surfaced in recent years highlighting the state’s aging fleet of school buses. Reports uncovered most of the bus fleet was more than 15 or 20 years old. 

Upgrading older buses is a huge challenge. Stagnant state funding to support school transportation forces districts to completely forego system or equipment upgrades. And when it comes time for routine maintenance or to make repairs, almost half of the shops aren’t even using any kind of fleet maintenance software. Additionally, school bus mechanics should be ASE certified, but according to a School Bus Fleet survey, only 56% of body shops are.

Infrequent and low-quality maintenance produces both safety and operating efficiency concerns that can’t be ignored. 

Can Bus Technicians Keep Up?

Technicians are struggling to keep up with aging fleets. In bigger districts, some technicians are responsible for the upkeep of 25 buses each, a ratio that has increased over the years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, technicians are now also in charge of disinfection and stocking PPE for drivers. 

Technician pay is increasing, but only by an average of about $1.00 from 2013-2017. An increase in technician salaries will cost districts more money to use their services. But without significant pay increases, how can districts keep technicians around?

The True Cost of Carbon Emissions

Sustainability is a huge issue for aging buses. Older bus fleets are usually powered by diesel, and diesel-powered vehicles release hefty carbon emissions that aren’t safe for kids, drivers, or the environment. 

In fact, over 90% of the country’s 500,000 school buses actually still run on diesel. American school buses travel about four billion miles annually, pumping out 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas into the air every single year.

With stats like these, environmental agencies are trying to make changes and give schools a leg up. For example, in 2015 the EPA awarded funds to various school districts across the country to encourage them to replace or retrofit their older diesel buses.

Yet even with this move towards alternative fuel, school districts continue to purchase diesel buses in large numbers. For all new school buses purchased for the 2019-2020 school year, 93% of school districts respondents chose diesel for some or all of their buses. Why? 

Environmentally-conscious changes, like completely switching to electric fleets, still tend to be costly. Instead, some fleets are getting new “lower-emission” ISB6.7 G engines. These engines are still powered by natural gas, which is more a bandaid solution than a long-lasting move towards real change.   

Are Old School Buses Safe?

Dangerous carbon emissions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lack of safety in old school buses. In fact, little has changed in overall school bus safety since the 1960s. Take seatbelts, for example. How often are kids actually buckled in when they ride to and from school? Even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently clarified that kids should always be buckled in (no matter the vehicle), too many buses are still in circulation without them. 

These outdated vehicles also tend to lack modern technology like on-board cameras to prevent bullying, and stop-arm cameras to capture images of cars that pass illegally. 

How Can the Student Transportation Industry Do Better?

Based on the data, the chances of a child riding in a relatively new, safe, and carbon-free school bus are pretty unlikely. The student transportation industry has to do better. But how?

Buses have to be updated far more regularly. The industry must ensure that mechanics get ASE certified and are paid properly. Part of that involves limiting the number of mechanics required per bus by retiring buses earlier so costs can stay low. The industry must instead move towards more carbon neutral vehicles to stay ahead of the game, reduce costs in the long-run, and ultimately, keep kids safe. 

All these changes must be made at every level and in every district, no matter their economic standing or budgets. Every kid, driver, and district matters. 

Are We Keeping Buses in Service Too Long?

The answer is a resounding yes. But right now the industry isn’t taking the right steps to keep them updated and in shape while they’re still in service. 

Zum is already leading the way and outpacing the traditional bussing system with big technological and safety advances. Zum reduces costs and increases efficiency by deploying the best vehicle for each route—from a fleet that includes electric vehicles, buses, cars, and vans. There are no ancient vehicles or outdated technologies. In fact, updates and advancements go above and beyond modern utility— they’re also equitable and work to accommodate all children, like kids with special needs.  

Our school buses need help. But in an industry that lags behind in basic advancement, Zum is doing the opposite. We’re breaking the mold and filling the gaps where the traditional system can’t. Want to learn more about getting Zum in your school? Reach out and you’ll get a fantastic service that includes new buses, all of which are carbon neutral. 

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Six Critical School Bus Safety Issues in 2022

When it comes to getting our kids to and from school, safety is by far the most important element. Parents, school administrators and bus drivers all want school transportation to be a secure space where kids are taken care of and feel comfortable. But the traditional yellow school bus system is outdated and no longer meets the modern safety standards we want for our families. In fact, very little has changed since these school bus safety standards were developed in 1939.

From the struggle to adapt to Covid-19 demands, to ongoing unresolved issues with bullying and harassment on buses, the student transportation system is failing all of us. For our kids’ safety, and for our own peace of mind, our school buses need to change. Modernizing this system will bring new efficiencies, improved safety through technology, cost savings, and ultimately allow our children to get the most out of their education.  

The Facts Around School Bus Safety

The safety facts and statistics around school bus safety are, much like the school transportation industry as a whole, pretty antiquated and lacking clarity. Laws and state actions aren’t consistent and in some areas they don’t take into account new transportation research which recommends, for example, basic safety measures like seat belts. For many districts, the archaic idea of “buses are safer without seatbelts” still stands, for a variety of reasons including the cost to retrofit, resulting in older buses being at odds with modern research emphasizing the safety imperative.

Along with this debated and complex seatbelt question, some of the most critical safety concerns facing the student transportation industry in 2022 are those related to Covid-19, toxic diesel exhaust, bullying, antiquated bus hardware, and vehicle visibility. Ultimately, our kids are riding around in vehicles that simply aren’t equipped to fully protect them. 

Delving into the six major school bus safety issues serves to first acknowledge our greater industry shortcomings and blind spots, to then make great improvements in the future. 

COVID-19

When it comes to bus safety for our kids, Covid-19 is still at the forefront of all our minds. Crowding in school transportation is a big safety issue, and even when the pandemic has subsided, keeping kids healthy will always be a top priority. 

The problem is, traditional busing doesn’t actually allow for any real type of flexibility or tracking to keep kids safe when outbreaks occur, or when schedules need to shift to create more social distancing for kids. This failure becomes even more detrimental in low-income areas where communities are more affected by Covid-19 and also rely more on busing and unnecessarily long commute times. 

So yes, there’s room for serious improvement. First, bus routes need more dynamic technology-based routing. School districts and officials need to update routes quickly and take the lead on planning so drivers can quickly adapt to A/B schedules, staggered bell times, student absences, and real-time GPS routing. 

Buses also need contact tracing. Schools are already monitoring their own cases, but that tracking needs to flow into the bus system as well, and provide the tools drivers need to notify administrators and parents/guardians about exposures. 

Additionally, bus drivers need to be empowered to communicate with parents/guardians about their own commitments to health and safety, and parents/guardians need to be able to communicate any specific instructions regarding each students’ health needs to their drivers. Modern solutions such as mobile and tablet apps allow parents to easily communicate and provide specific instructions for their child’s driver.  

Bullying & Harassment 

Traditional school buses have essentially been a breeding ground for bullying and harassment. One study, for example, found that 87% of the families questioned said their children had witnessed bullying on the bus. Many kids don’t even discuss these issues with parents until months after the issue occurs, and some never do at all. 

Why does bullying and harassment happen so frequently on school buses? They are spaces almost completely unsupervised by adults, save for the far-off driver who is busy keeping their eyes on the road, and isn’t trained to de-escalate fights or deal with inappropriate behavior. 

What if bus drivers were better trained in de-escalation tactics or could identify signs of abuse? Through improvements in technology and training, bus drivers may be able to report, monitor, and track safety incidents with greater efficiency and effectiveness. This forward thinking can lead to a school bus environment that could look a whole lot different.

Toxic Diesel Exhaust

Over 90% of the country’s 500,000 school buses run on diesel. American school buses travel about four billion miles annually, and those diesel buses are pumping out 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas every single year. That’s a lot of toxic air making its way into the environment to get kids to and from school. 

These numbers have real human consequences we can’t ignore. More than 25 million children and thousands of drivers breathe this toxic air every day. These impurities negatively impact kids’ health and academic performance, particularly for kiddos who are dealing with asthma and other respiratory conditions. 

It’s no question that electric fleets are the answer. If public buses are already going electric, what’s keeping school buses behind? Transitioning to cleaner, greener buses can meaningfully shrink our society’s environmental footprint as well as save school districts money in the long run. 

Safety Belts & Their Effectiveness

Some studies attempted to prove that seat belts are an unnecessary expense for school buses. But the truth is many of these studies were executed before safety belts were required in regular vehicles and, much like the bus transportation system as a whole, are now antiquated and dangerous. 

The unfortunate reality is that as of today, states can still decide whether or not students are required to wear a seatbelt on the bus. Nevertheless, in 2015 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that their strong position is this: seat belts save lives, no matter if that’s in a passenger car or a yellow school bus.

Let’s put this into perspective. According to the National Safety Council, 6,000 passengers and drivers were injured in school-bus related accidents in 2019. Those are 6,000 risks most parents are not willing to take. Which is why all riders in school transportation should be buckled in, and school buses should be equipped to make that possible.  

External/Internal Cameras & Hardware

Take a look at any school bus in your neighborhood and you’ll notice the design is probably the same as it was when you were in school. The folks at Bellwether Education Partners said it best: “Little has changed in student transportation since school buses came on the scene in 1939, when representatives from 48 states developed the first set of school bus standards. Nearly 80 years later, the iconic yellow school bus continues to dominate public school transportation.”

Traditional school buses are outdated, and that includes their safety hardware. Devices like stop arms (those stop signs that extend from the side of the bus when students are boarding or exiting the bus), as well as flashing lights, driver mirrors, and cameras, are technologies that work to keep kids extra safe on their journey to and from school. Yet many are sparse or outdated. 

On-board cameras, for example, can provide an additional pair of eyes where necessary and appropriate, and ultimately help with bullying and behavioral issues amongst students. Unfortunately, school transportation operators report only having cameras on two-thirds of their buses. 

Stop-arm cameras are another helpful piece of hardware for school transportation. They capture images of cars illegally passing buses, but again were only reported on 20% of fleets. And that wasn’t even on every vehicle

There’s no question about it— to protect kids’ safety, buses need to be equipped with the right technology, and ensure it protects student privacy. Transportation providers must look toward positive change through technology, improvements and reevaluation of hardware if they want to be effective. 

School Bus Color & Visibility

Since the school bus inception, bright yellow has been a symbol of education and reliability in the education system. You may even refer to that specific shade of yellow as “school bus yellow.”

But it’s time to question the antiquated idea. Is yellow really the safest color for a school transportation vehicle? Is it the most visible, in an era where we can dramatically customize colors and reflectivity? Does it prevent more accidents than other colors? Asking the questions— even the most detailed ones—and always being open to new ideas and new solutions is important to ensuring all of our student’s safety. 

Conclusion: Are School Buses Safe in 2022?

A lot has changed in how we define safety over the past few years. We understand now more than ever the risks and complications our kiddos’ transportation poses. We also understand how crucial it is for every player to be able to adapt quickly and communicate, no matter the circumstances. 

There’s much improvement to be made in our school buses and the way we send our kids off to school every day. As safety issues continue to evolve, Zum is getting ahead of these problems and finding solutions. If you or your school district wants a leg up on school bus safety that also offers serious efficiency and actual savings, reach out to Zum. There’s no better feeling than sending off your kids to school knowing they’re in good hands. 

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‘The Future of Student Transportation’ in the Pacific Northwest and Beyond Begins Today

Expert panel hosted by Zum identifies a bold new vision for the future.

On March 31st 2022, Seattle-area leaders held a virtual town hall on ‘The Future of Student Transportation” and the urgent need to improve student safety, equitable access, efficiency and to slash harmful emissions. Hosted by Zum, a national leader in student transportation solutions, and moderated by King County Council member Girmay Zahilay, the following panelists were featured:

  • Jessyn Farrell, City of Seattle, Director of Environment and Sustainability
  • Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent of Edmonds School District
  • Kim Raney, Executive Director of Transportation & Logistics, Oakland Unified School District
  • Ritu Narayan, Chief Executive Officer, Zum Student Transportation

“Student transportation represents the nation’s largest mass transit system,” said Zum CEO, Ritu Narayan. “But it’s broken in very different ways across the country, so we rarely get to explore what systemic reform should look like at scale. That is what today’s conversation is about.” 

From left to right: King County Council member Girmay Zahilay, Joe Nguyen, WA State Senator 34th Legislative District, Transportation Committee MemberJessyn Farrell, City of Seattle, Director of Environment and Sustainability, Ritu Narayan, CEO, Zum Student Transportation, Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent of Edmonds School District, Kim Raney, Executive Director of Transportation & Logistics, Oakland Unified School District

Leaders from today’s town hall were clear about the problems facing school districts, families and kids – but also optimistic that solutions are within reach.  

Panelists discussed current challenges in student transportation, including a lack of flexibility for schools, driver shortages, the impact of outdated diesel buses on the environment and on children’s health, long commute times and disproportionate harm being done to low income students with special needs, exacerbating inequity.  Panel members highlighted a collective desire for more flexibility, innovation, and technology to improve transparency, visibility, and efficiency. They also painted a vision of the future where flexible, dignified, equitable, and sustainable transportation becomes a reality for all students.

“My 10 year vision is every child has a safe, healthy, climate friendly, equitable way to get to school”

Jessyn Farrell, City of Seattle, Director of Environment and Sustainability

“Coming from Fedex to OUSD, I was surprised when I saw you could track your packages, but there was no visibility (for parents or administrators) of where students were,” said Kim Raney, Executive Director of Transportation & Logistics at the Oakland Unified School District. “The new technology we have been using for end-to-end tracking from Zum has been transformational to our lives.” 

“We all know the value of effective transportation solutions when we need to access doctors, food, jobs and of course to youth in our schools.” said King County Councilmember, Girmay Zahilay. “We should all express our gratitude to the people and systems that get us where we need to go.” 

“For me equity is very simple. Do people think they belong?” said Gustavo Balderas, Superintendent of Edmonds School District. All panelists emphasized the need to ensure the needs and voices of often-marginalized people are honored and fully heard in the design of our student transportation future, and the forging of fresh new public-private partnerships. 

“We stand committed to serve the families of the Pacific Northwest, providing safe, reliable and sustainable student transportation solutions, ” Narayan added. “Seattle has always been on the cutting edge of climate action and innovation. The future of student transportation in Washington State is bright from where we stand.” 

Zum will continue this conversation in Seattle and throughout the region as leaders collectively search for solutions to shared challenges and an unsustainable status quo. 

Learn more at www.ridezum.com.

Read the full press release.

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SafeGuard Driver Program

New Advanced Technology, Training and Certification To Ensure Zum Drivers Set The Bar On Student Transportation Safety Standards

We are raising the bar on safety for student transportation by introducing SafeGuard, our vehicle safety technology, driver training, and certification program. This comprehensive program ensures the quality and experience of each Zum driver, gives drivers the skills to deliver the best experience to each student on every ride, and provides drivers access to its modern technology platform. The program’s enhanced training curriculum will improve driver safety and performance, provide specialized training for transportation professionals and implement new vehicle safety technology.

During the qualification process, drivers go through an extensive background check, including fingerprinting and a comprehensive driving test which is vehicle- and state-specific. Once verified with us, these drivers participate in a multi-module training course, which we developed in partnership with industry leading safety experts as well as our in-house team of state certified trainers. 

“Zum’s secret sauce to providing superior safety and service for students is pairing passionate and skilled student transportation professionals with the support of advanced training and modern technology. The introduction of our SafeGuard program demonstrates our commitment to going above and beyond the industry standard to provide a safe and positive experience for students and drivers.”

Ritu Narayan, CEO and founder of Zum

As part of our 360-degree approach to safety, which ensures student safety and well-being is the top priority before, during, and after each and every ride, we have added specialized modules to the SafeGuard program that are focused on behavioral science, response and de-escalation tactics and effective communication with parents and school districts. These courses are geared toward creating a safe and respectful environment on the school bus and will better equip our drivers with a variety of skills and methods to provide personalized care, emergency response and increased transparency between the drivers, parents and school district staff. 

Through vehicle safety technology, the SafeGuard program ensures that all drivers are trained on and required to adhere to specific safety protocols while picking up or dropping off students and while driving. This includes the launch of a new pre-trip and post-trip Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR), which requires drivers to submit electronic reports confirming the safety of their vehicle before and after the ride, and ensures that any vehicle in need of immediate repair is taken out of service. 

To learn more, visit www.ridezum.com.

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Zum Takes Step Toward A Zero Emission Future For Student Transportation

Modern student transportation leader deploys its first electric vehicle school buses

Today, we’re announcing that Zum’s first electric school buses have hit the road as part of our mission to transition 100% of our fleet to electric by 2025. The initial six LionC electric school buses from Lion Electric are now running across Northern California, transporting students from San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), Menlo School and Nueva School. 

We have been working toward driving an industry-wide shift to transition the nation’s 500,000 school buses that currently run on diesel to electric. The student transportation industry is responsible for emitting 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually and producing pollution levels that are often five to 10 times higher than the surrounding areas, threatening the health of students and drivers.

“This marks an important point in our journey to lead the student transportation industry toward a zero emission future. The U.S. school bus fleet is double the size of all other mass transit combined and is a major contributor to the nation’s carbon emissions.”

Ritu Narayan, CEO and founder of Zum

The introduction of our first EV school buses rapidly follows other steps we have taken to meet the urgency of the climate crisis as part of our Zum Net Zero initiative, a program rooted in creating a safer, healthier, more sustainable planet. You can find out more about Zum’s sustainability program here.

Read the full press release with today’s news here.

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People Who Zum: Denise Archer

Taking the driver’s seat

We’re celebrating #PeopleWhoZum with Denise Archer, a non-profit administrator, artist, teen zine editor, mom and now school bus driver. She became a bus driver because she wanted to make a more immediate hands-on difference in students’ growth and emotional wellbeing. She’s not a Zum employee, yet she very much embodies our values.

Jumping in

I heard all the stories on the news about families that were unable to get their kids back to school because of the bus shortage. And then I heard the story of a mom with a neurodivergent son who had autism who didn’t have access to a bus. I was like, if I can help out and hopefully inspire other parents who have some time to get involved, then this is the way it’s going to be. I know of other parents who haven’t become bus drivers, but have become substitute teachers. Everybody’s jumping in and that feels really good.

I told the bus yard, in my interview, I was like, “Listen, I hate driving and I hate waking up early, but I’m willing to do both for the cause. And driving a bus sounds really fun.” 

So that’s what I’m doing now. I get up at 5:30 AM when normally I would be getting up at eight or nine. And I’m driving kids and it’s so much fun. It kind of ties in with the nonprofit work that I’ve always done. It’s been very fun and driving a bus is very challenging. It uses my brain in a whole different way. 

Playing Rookie

It took two and a half months for me to get trained, and that’s just for a part-time route. The first day felt completely overwhelming. I have my Master’s in Public Administration. I speak French fluently. I lived in Bolivia, I’ve lived in Japan. I know those languages really well. But this was just completely humbling.

The first day it was pouring down rain. It wasn’t even six in the morning and it was dark. I had a different bus than the one I was trained on, I finally found a way to wedge open the hood, but I didn’t know how to close it. So I had to run over to the mechanics and ask them, “How do I close this hood?” The whole time I’m thinking about the time and picking up these kids who are waiting in the rain. 

I was very late that first day, but driving the bus was fine. That’s something that I felt comfortable doing.  But I learned that making mistakes was part of being a rookie. And this is a year of rookies everywhere in so many fields, so we’re just going to make mistakes. 

Driver Initiation

I love the bus drivers. It is the most diverse group of people I have ever worked with in my entire life. Everybody gets along because we’re all unified in transporting kids.

We all know what it is to drive a bus and how difficult it can be at times, especially when you’re making those turns and there’s parked cars, or there’s cargo, or big trucks or semis, or whatever’s in the way. And everybody has hit their mirrors on something. When it happened to me, I walked into the safety office and I said, “Oh, I hit my mirror on another bus.” And they said, “Congratulations and welcome!” 

I Wish School Buses Were More…

Accessible. But there’s a limited budget everywhere. Kids deserve a right to free transportation to public school, and sometimes that might require a longer route than would be helpful for them. 

I think the kids who get left out of the conversation are the ones who have sensory issues and might prefer a smaller bus. The painfully shy kid who has social anxiety would probably do better with a smaller bus, or even a bully so they can be monitored more. 

Call Me Pumpkin

I call myself Pumpkin to the kids, and every morning I say, “Okay, what’s my name?” And they say, “Pumpkin.” Then I say, “What do I like in the morning?” And they say, “Sugar.” And I always tell them, “Just be sweet to each other, say sweet words.” 

One morning I accidentally missed the turn I was supposed to make to get to the school, so I said, “Everybody, Pumpkin missed her turn”. 

The energy immediately exploded on the bus. This was now very exciting. I had to drive up the hills of Portland because I missed the turn.

I can’t legally back the bus unless I radio it in, and I had a 72-passenger bus of kids. So I tried finding a side street to go up and just make a U-turn. It was dark out and it was winter, and it was still raining. I took a left and I went up the hill a little bit and the kids were like, “Oooooooh.” And then I took another turn, and then I took a right, and I’m like, “Okay, okay, I think there’s a down street coming.” I was very relieved. 

So I’m driving downhill and it was fairly steep, and the kids were like, “Oooooooh.” As I went to turn right, the tow hooks of the bus, which hang down below the bumper (they tend to get caught on the road sometimes) went, “Boom, boom, boom, boom.” The kids were like, “Whoa.” They loved it. They called it the Field Trip.

Sense of Normalcy

I think it’s just great that kids are getting some sense of normalcy that they’re able to hang out with each other, even if it’s on the bus. I know that they go to school now and they’re in their classrooms, but it’s really nice that bus camaraderie happens, and that what goes on in the bus stays on the bus sometimes. I’m pretty new and bus driving has caused me to refer to myself as a vegetable in the third person, but it’s sweet. And even the mistakes that I’ve made, like missing a turn, I recognize that’s probably the biggest excitement these kids have had in the past two years of this pandemic.

I’ve also seen parents completely fatigued by the pandemic, and they need to get to work. They say to their kids, “Can you get on this bus?” I’m glad that I can help and be there just to get their kids to school. So that’s one less thing that they have to do.

Getting sucked in

I think bus drivers love their jobs because of the kids. I think some people who get into it because they’ve been truck drivers or they’ve ridden motorcycles and they want to operate another kind of machinery. And they get there, and they fall in love with the kids. 

A lot of bus drivers will continue to stay until the kids have grown through elementary school and middle school, and then maybe even high school, depending on the route that they have. So you might get sucked in, but just remember: use your mirrors when you turn, use your mirrors.

Thanks Denise for participating in our #PeopleWhoZum series. Your colorful stories about your driving experience inspired us. Good luck with your first year driving!

About #PeopleWhoZum

#PeopleWhoZum is a celebration of the unique people who are driving change in the student transportation industry. A spotlight view of those who believe, as we do, rides to and from school impact the way children learn, grow, relate, and excel. We’ll be featuring individuals who embody our values and sharing their personal stories and perspectives. Please check back weekly for great stories starting next week. 

Do you know someone in the industry who would be a great addition to #PeopleWhoZum? If so, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us at social@ridezum.com.

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People Who Zum: Mike Ankton

Teaching Kids Respect on the Route

We’re celebrating #PeopleWhoZum with Mike Ankton, who until recently, held the title of Youngest Bus Driver in Arkansas. Mike currently balances his schedule majoring in Social Science Education at Henderson State University with his bus routes. For him, driving is an opportunity to teach the next generation about respecting each other. He’s not a Zum employee, yet he very much embodies our values.

Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

Inspiring young bus drivers

I was the youngest bus driver in the state of Arkansas for the 2020/2021 school year. But I don’t have that title anymore. When I became the youngest bus driver, THV11 did a news story on me and after that I had a lot of young people contact me because they were also interested in becoming bus drivers. And a few of them did follow up and become bus drivers. I know one who probably has that title right now. We just did an interview together last week for the National Transportation Magazine. So technically he is the reigning youngest bus driver, but who knows? Next year he might be pushed out like I was.

Good morning 

The way I connect with kids on the bus is when I pick them up in the morning, I say, “Good morning,” to every last one of them. Even the ones typically that don’t want to say anything back— I start their day off with a good morning. 

When they get back on the bus for the afternoon route and I’m dropping them off at home, I tell them I’ll see them tomorrow. 

I try to pick up things and notice each student individually. I always go out of my way to help my students, whether that’s parking the bus and walking to the school and having a chat with a teacher or principal or the transportation director about them. When I see students I let them know, “You’re doing great… I heard that you didn’t do so well on this test, but you’ll do great on it next time.” 

I wish school buses were more…

Comfortable. Not only for the students, but for the drivers. I know students have trouble sitting in those seats and a lot of them might take naps. They might want to do homework. I just wish they were more comfortable. 

You’ve heard about the white coat syndrome — you go to a doctor’s office and you’re already uncomfortable because you see the doctor’s office and you think, “Doctor’s office.” So maybe a bus’ interior could be more bright and vibrant. Something that’s just more inviting and fun.

Driven to teach

I became a bus driver because I’m a social science education major. Down in the south, most history teachers have a (sports) coaching endorsement. I don’t have a coaching endorsement and I didn’t have a desire to get one because I wasn’t as passionate about sports as other people are. I’m more passionate about teaching. I knew that it would be harder to get a job not having that coaching endorsement in teaching history. I thought, “What’s another way to make myself more marketable for school? What makes me stand out compared to other 1st year education majors without a coaching endorsement?”

I reached out to my former high school teacher and told them I just wanted to get a CDL (Commercial Drivers License). I got my training and I passed my permit and passed my driving test and they hired me for a half route. 

Respect the route

Sometimes they’ll ask me questions about their homework on the way home, “Mr. Michael, what is the freezing point of water?” They had just had a discussion on that and too many of them were wrong, so I helped them.

I always say, “I’m interested in who you are as a person. I don’t just see you as another student. I know your name. I know where you go to school, your grade, your extracurriculars, where you live. I care about you as a person.”

There’s a talk I have on the bus with kids— “You respect me. I respect you. I expect the same treatment.” And I believe the students started to practice that amongst themselves.

From classroom to bus

Some of the things I have learned in the classroom help on the bus because the bus really is another classroom. But the dynamic is different because when you are in a classroom, you have the power to stand up and walk around and monitor students. When I’m driving a bus that’s filled from the front row all the way to the back row the most important thing is driving. So it’s very hard. I believe that one of the reasons why people quit being a bus driver is because of the discipline that you have to endure on the bus. There’s a lot going on— distractions from the top mirror and distractions on the road.

I think some of the things I’ve learned in classes— how to talk to students about making them feel heard, not talking down on them, not invalidating their feelings, not, “I’m the adult, you’re the child. So you just listen to me,” work on my bus. 

On driver training

The training to be a bus driver was how to drive a bus, not, “Here’s your bus and kids.” So a lot of bus drivers have to learn that on the fly. I believe that’s why some lose interest in driving. Because nobody pulled them to the side and explained, “Hey, this would be a good strategy for you to connect with your kids. This would be a good strategy to minimize problems on your bus when you’re driving.” 

I think if school districts would take the time to individually train their bus drivers every year and say, “Hey, this is how you could talk to your students. If you would, try to say good morning to all your students when they get on the bus. Say have a good day or see you tomorrow when they get off. And when you have a problem with your student, rather than writing them up, talk to them first. It’ll add a minute to your route, but if you just get the opportunity to ask, ‘Why are you doing that? What’s going on?'” I think that would really help.

You’re not just driving a truck, you’re driving the world’s most precious cargo. 

Thanks Mike for participating in our #PeopleWhoZum series. Your enthusiasm as a bus driver and future educator are making a huge impact.  

About #PeopleWhoZum

#PeopleWhoZum is a celebration of the unique people who are driving change in the student transportation industry. A spotlight view of those who believe, as we do, rides to and from school impact the way children learn, grow, relate, and excel. We’ll be featuring individuals who embody our values and sharing their personal stories and perspectives. Please check back weekly for great stories starting next week. 

Do you know someone in the industry who would be a great addition to #PeopleWhoZum? If so, we’d love to talk to you. You can contact us at social@ridezum.com.