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.


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.