Introducing People Who Zum: Driving Change in Student Transportation

Today we are thrilled to launch #PeopleWhoZum. 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. 

Community is essential to Zum, and we’re fortunate to work with a great one, that’s continuously expanding, From bus drivers, to school administrators to teachers, parents, technology innovators and policy makers. Our community is a vibrant one with dedicated people reimagining the student transportation industry. 

Ultimately, we view our work as enabling a future generation of scientists, poets, civic leaders, data scientists, musicians and more by ensuring they are in the best position possible to learn. And for us, that starts with getting all students to and from school in a safe, sustainable, and accessible manner. 

For parents and schools we’re providing a flexible, transparent, modern system they can rely on. And for the planet, we’re reducing the toxic effects of diesel bus fumes to create a more sustainable long term solution. 

Look for our first story next week, featuring a school bus driver whose kindness is now part of the school district curriculum.
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


Making Student Transportation More Flexible and Transparent

This post is part of a series that dives into our vision for reimagining student transportation

The pandemic has caused us to radically reconsider education in ways we never imagined we would, with hybrid models of virtual and in-person classes and newly flexible school schedules. Now’s the time to reinvent what remains the most inflexible part of the nation’s educational system: How students get to and from school.

Student transportation impacts everything from the time the bell rings to the length of a student’s day to whether they are able to focus in or out of class. One recent study found that students with long commutes spend less time sleeping and exercising, suggesting “troubling public health implications for teens.”

Cloud-based software and AI have transformed virtually every industry. We order groceries, shop for clothes and participate in work meetings in ways that depart radically from how we conducted these activities only a few years ago. These same tools and technologies can infuse the student transportation system with the same flexibility, transparency and agility that we, as consumers, have come to expect from all manner of other services, while also offering the superior safety supported by real-time visibility.

Tech-enabled flexibility allows systems to respond quickly to unexpected changes. And if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s how swiftly and radically circumstances can change. If schools need to institute staggered schedules to enable social distancing, for example, or decide to extend the school day for students who are falling behind, they can do so seamlessly using state-of-the-art software.

In addition to technology advancements, we can’t continue to expect that a one-size-fits-all vehicle works for every student. Some students live minutes from their schools, in highly dense city environments, while others live in rural communities where they are spread out from their peers. Reconsidering the configuration of fleets, and introducing multiple vehicle sizes, can accommodate for a variety of commutes.

Tech-driven transparency 

At Zum, we believe that schools and families should benefit from the tech-enabled transparency and flexibility that have transformed other types of transportation in recent years. We believe that districts should be able to prioritize safety, achieve new efficiency and elevate customer satisfaction by tracking capacity, ride duration, on-time arrivals, driver behavior and other key performance indicators. 

We believe that modern parents deserve to be notified when their children have boarded a school bus (or other vehicle), where the vehicle is located in its transit journey and when their children have safely been dropped off at their destination. We believe that bus drivers should be able to report, monitor and track safety incidents using cloud-based tools. 

Fundamentally, transparency allows us to see and predict problems so that we can fix them. Do our children deserve any less? 

To learn more about Zum’s approach to student transportation transparency, read our full vision here.


The Future is Green

Click below to read Zum Founder and CEO Ritu Narayan’s article on the importance of creating a sustainable future for school kids.


Are Long Commutes to School Healthy for Kids?

It’s time that long commutes to school are viewed as more than just inconveniences. Long commutes have been found to have a negative impact on children’s well-being. 

Research by Carole Turley Voulgaris of California Polytechnic State University, Michael J. Smart of Rutgers University, and Brian D. Taylor of UCLA, takes a detailed look at how lengthy commutes affect the time kids devote to other daily activities. Their findings detail just how damaging a long commute can be. 

Every additional minute of commuting, beyond the average, is associated with a 1.3-minute reduction in sleep. Meaning if one teenager has a commute of 10 minutes and another has a commute of 30 minutes, the second student would get 26 minutes less of sleep on average.

Sleep is incredibly important to child development. Proper sleep in children is linked to improved attention, behavior, better memory, heightened focus as well as overall mental and physical health. Sleep is even linked to a healthy immune system that can properly stave off illnesses. When we sleep, our immune system produces a protein called cytokines that help fight infection. Depriving a child of sleep means that less cytokines are produced and the chances of catching a virus such as the common cold go up. 

A long commute doesn’t just mean less sleep for children. It also means less exercise. 

Students with commutes that were 30 minutes or less got as much as an hour and 15 minutes more exercise than those with longer commutes. According to a recent World Health Organization study, children ages 11-17 around the world aren’t getting enough exercise. The study found that 80 percent of adolescents ages 11 to 17 were insufficiently physically active in 2016. A long commute to school might be a contributing factor in a global health crisis in today’s youth. 

How can we expect students to show up to school ready to learn when a system is in place that disadvantages them from the get-go? Why do we accept the status-quo bus system when it can harm the very students that it is supposed to serve?

There is a better way.

Zum has reduced student commute times in some school districts, such as Oakland Unified School District, from 70% of students spending over an hour commuting to school to only 3%. At first glance, this can be viewed as a convenience for students, but that scratches the surface of it’s true benefit. Less commute time means more sleep and more exercise for children. That means increased child well-being. 

Long commutes need to be viewed as what they truly are. A cause for poor health in students that needs a solution.

To learn more about Zum’s approach to student transportation safety, read our full vision here.


Transforming the Most Inflexible Part of Our School System

By Bringing New Efficiencies to the $28 Billion School Transportation Industry, We Can Enhance Student Well-Being While Saving Our Planet 

This post is part of a series that dives into our vision for reimagining student transportation

With their hulking frames, diesel fumes and vinyl seats, yellow school buses certainly aren’t luxury vehicles. Yet busing constitutes school districts’ second-highest line item, after salaries. Because the system is riddled with inefficiencies, though, schools and communities are getting a paltry return on their investment.

By fully modernizing student transportation, we can transform this behemoth industry into a model of efficiency, while at the same time prioritizing student safety, learning and overall well-being. An efficient school transportation system can generate enormous savings in money, time and energy—benefiting schools, parents, students, communities and our shared natural environment.  

Saving money and time for schools

Studies have found that since the 1980s, the cost of student transportation has increased by 75% per student, on average. The contribution from state budgets has not kept pace, forcing many local districts to earmark a growing share of their funds for transportation. Any savings gained through busing efficiencies, then, can be put directly into the classroom to boost student achievement.

Currently, most school bus routes are designed using opaque, outmoded logistics systems and a one-vehicle-size-fits-all approach that is overly reliant on 40-foot yellow diesel buses. This leads to school bus routes that are often circuitous and meandering and, sometimes, downright nonsensical. 

By using real-time data and advanced analytics to design efficient routes, and by assigning an appropriately sized vehicle to each, we can save school systems millions of dollars. It may make sense to break up certain long routes, for example, and have an SUV serve children in one neighborhood while a minibus serves another, larger group in a different part of town.

Beyond saving money, efficient routes translate directly into student well-being. Students with large average times on buses report lower grades, lower levels of fitness, fewer social activities and poorer study habits. Because poor families, children of color and children with special needs are more likely to depend on school buses for transportation, they’re the ones who stand to gain the most from the efficiencies we generate.  

Shared environment, shared infrastructure

We can further maximize efficiency across cities and states, by making it possible for multiple school districts to share infrastructure—including vehicles, network technology and maintenance capabilities—in order to more easily manage supply and demand. Managing this infrastructure centrally, rather than siloing vehicles by each school, will allow for more efficient use of resources across the community.

And when it comes to fuel efficiency and overall environmental sustainability, student transportation is irresistible low-hanging fruit. A shared infrastructure approach can speed the rollout of electric vehicles, which will require charging stations, upgraded grid infrastructure and more.  

Currently, over 90% of the nation’s 500,000 school buses run on diesel, emitting 8.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas annually. By creating efficient routes and transitioning to electric vehicles, we can conserve districts’ money and save students time, while also helping protect our planet. At Zum, we are transitioning to a fully electric vehicle fleet by 2025; until then, through our Zum Net Zero Initiative, we are offsetting 100% of the carbon emissions for our fleet. 

All too often, efficiency comes at the expense of human well-being. That’s why modernizing school transportation is such a tantalizing prospect: It’s one of those rare cases where everyone benefits. 

To learn more about Zum’s approach to student transportation safety, read our full vision here.


Zūm in Cheddar News

Zum Founder & CEO Ritu Narayan joined Cheddar News’ Closing Bell to discuss how its $130 million Series D round will help it transition to 100% EV by 2025 and its plans for expansion into twelve states across the country.

Check out the interview below!

Cheddar News: Student Transport Startup Zūm Nears Unicorn Value After Announcing $130 Million Series D


Sequoia Capital’s Seven Questions With Ritu Narayan

Zum has the privilege of working closely with the team at Sequoia Capital since early on in our history — with the well known and respected venture capital firm investing in Zum as part of our Series A, B and C rounds. 

They’ve recently published an interview with Zum Founder and CEO Ritu Narayan here as part of their newsletter series “Seven Questions with…” where they interview startup founders about advice they have received or learned over the years.

Please check it out and let us know what you think.



Zūm in TechCrunch and Forbes today

Our partnership with Autogrid was covered in TechCrunch and Forbes today. Check out the news below:

TechCrunch: Zūm wants to use its electric school buses to send power back to the electrical grid

Forbes: Electric Yellow Schoolbus Will Try To Make Vehicle To Grid Power Work

We’re thrilled to be innovating to make school transportation more equitable, sustainable, and reliable for kids, parents and schools. If you want to learn more about our sustainability efforts please click here.

Exciting times ahead!


Carpooling The Easy Way — No More Telephone Tag

One of my biggest challenges is being solved today, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone. For years, I’ve been bogged down with the need to create carpools for my kids but not having the bandwidth to do these quickly and easily. Email or (even worse,) text threads would go on and on and sometimes get lost, buried or just plain forgotten. Calling was a nightmare as no one was ever free at the same time and it became an endless game of “telephone tag”. Furthermore, who was going to drive, when (especially when nobody has the time)?

Finally, I’d had enough. So our team at Zūm did something about it. While we’ve been the leader in rides and care for kids over the last two years, for which carpool has been a part, we now make it super easy for parents to plan, schedule and change carpools. No more texts, emails or phone calls, we do it all for you in our app. One less hassle to deal with every day! And because of the great Zūm drivers taking the wheel, the “who’s going to drive” question gets solved too.

From my experiences, I knew that we had to make this streamlined, and easy to add/invite people to, so we integrated the carpool option with our regular ride and care booking. So when you go to schedule a ride, you just choose “Carpool Ride” and you’re off and running.

Setting up the carpool is a piece of cake, just like setting up a Zūm ride — select your rider, choose date, time and location and set up payment method. For our carpool option, you can split payments one of three ways — pay it all yourself, split evenly by child or split evenly by parent. So if one family has three kids riding and you have one, you can split it into quarters.

Once that’s done, you simply invite your carpool families to join and they do their work on their end (adding their kids and payment methods). We even made sure there is a way to set up recurring carpools (just like our single rides,) and families can even drop out of a carpool date if they need to due to conflict. You no longer need to worry about the scheduling or the driving!

Beyond that, carpools are just your typical Zūm rides — great Zūm drivers, complete transparency and visibility and notifications throughout the ride. From my perspective, it has saved me so much time and lowered my stress about planning and getting my kids where they need to be. For my kids, they’re having a great time carpooling with their friends.

If you have carpools for school, practices, activities or anything, I hope you’ll try our new carpool feature, it will make your life so much easier.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm

“Time Poverty” Here at Home

The Unpaid Labor Gender Gap Isn’t Just a Third-World Problem

Most of us had never heard the term “time poverty,” until billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates recently shone a light on the problem in her foundation’s annual letter. But reading her first-hand observations of how families divide unpaid labor, coupled with stark statistics of how women carry so much more of the burden, I realized that “time poverty” is simply a new name for a very old problem.

Worldwide, there is a significant gap between the amount of unpaid labor performed by women compared to that performed by men. Gates defines “unpaid labor” simply:

“Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function.”

Cleaning, food shopping, childcare, cooking, and eldercare are all tasks that aren’t going away — but unfortunately the gender imbalance in who performs them doesn’t seem to be going away either.

The gap is widest in the poorest regions of the world, where women do as much as five hours more unpaid labor per day than men. In North America, women still perform two more hours per day than men [source: OECD 2014 Gender, Institutions and Development Database]. But when you consider that North America has a much higher percentage of both parents working outside the home, and that 25% of American families with children under age 18 are single mother households, it raises the question — how on earth do even first-world mothers find the time to do both paid and unpaid labor?

The Opportunity Cost

The problem of time poverty is not only one of fairness, or lack of leisure time, but of a large-scale opportunity cost to communities and the global economy. When women’s days are filled with unpaid labor, they find it difficult to learn new skills, advance in a job, or invent something new. Economist Rania Antonopoulos has argued that the gender gap in unpaid labor holds back economies (and societies) from reaching their full potential.

If women in the poorest countries were able to spend more time earning money for their families instead of working for free, that would have a powerful impact on their local economy. The same is true for the “overeducated” mom with a PhD, whose time may be better spent doing research and teaching than fishing socks out of the dryer.

Innovating Our Way to Equality

Despite the statistics, Melinda Gates is optimistic. She sees the time poverty problem as a consequence of persistent social norms, not a global conspiracy against women. She points out that technology may present an opportunity to short-circuit this stubborn cultural pattern:

“The solution is innovation, and you can help. Some of you will become engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and software developers. I invite you to take on the challenge of serving the poor with cheap, clean energy, better roads, and running water. Or maybe you can invent ingenious labor-saving technologies.”

The key to solving the time poverty problem may indeed be to shift some of the burden of unpaid labor onto technology, freeing up more time and energy for paid work, or at least giving us back a few hours a day to spend as we please. Technical innovation can also be used to connect women to each other, in ways that weren’t possible before the App Store and geolocation. When women who are starved for time can call on the services of women who need to earn extra money, we will all reap more rewards from our labor.

Ritu Narayan
Founder and CEO at Zūm