How a school district is using AI to solve its bus driver shortage

The national shortage of school bus drivers has left many students without reliable transportation. In 2023, the number of bus drivers nationwide in elementary schools fell to approximately 192,400, a 15.1% decline since 2019. research from the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite offering training and higher salaries, districts like Colorado Springs School District 11 couldn't find enough applicants.

At the beginning of the school year, District 11 budgeted for about 110 bus drivers, but was only able to hire about 60. To address the shortage, the school district partnered with RouteWise AI. The rideshare company HopSkipDrive developed the AI ​​technology that is being tested.

Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of HopSkipDrive, said their AI works by looking at every available vehicle, including buses, sedans and vans, and looking at every school to determine the most effective routes.

According to McFarland, AI can create an initial draft of routes within hours and finalize them over a weekend.

Now District 11 operates approximately 55 bus routes, supplemented by ride-hailing services with specially trained drivers who undergo strict background checks.

According to HopSkipDrive, it would cost about $50,000 for a school district the size of D-11 to adopt that AI tool. Last year alone, the software saved the district more than half a million dollars.

Parents like Ezekiel Bossert appreciate the service.

“I get a text that he's been picked up, a text that he's been dropped off. And then I don't have to worry about it anymore.”

His fifth-grader son, Dezmund, also finds it helpful.

“If we didn't have that, my dad would have to leave work or I would have to walk home, which wouldn't be fun,” Dezmund said.

After eight months of using the AI ​​software, District 11 reports a nearly 50% reduction in bus routes, improved on-time arrivals and increased driver pay.

Superintendent Michael Gaal said saving the agency money helped him protect the positions of at least 10 teachers and that without the agency, students' education would have suffered.

“They would be down twice,” he said. “One time they are left behind by transportation, and the second time they are left behind by the lack of instruction and educational opportunities.”

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  • June 15, 2024
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