How a school district is turning to AI to address its bus driver shortage

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gave Nationwide shortage of school bus drivers Leaving many students without reliable transportation. In 2023, the number of K-12 school bus drivers nationwide fell to about 192,400, down 15.1 percent from 2019, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite offers of training and higher salaries, districts like Colorado Springs School District 11 couldn't find enough candidates.

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

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

According to McFarland, AI can create a first draft of routes within hours, and finalize them in a weekend.

Now, District 11 operates about 55 bus routes, along with ride-share services with specially trained drivers who undergo rigorous background checks.

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

Parents like Ezekiel Bossert appreciate this service.

“I get a text message knowing it's been picked up, a text message saying it's been dropped. And then, I don't have to worry about it.”

Her son, Desmond, a 5th grader, also finds it helpful.

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

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

Superintendent Michael Gall said the money saved from the service has helped him protect at least ten teacher positions and that without the service, student education would have suffered.

“They'll fall behind twice,” he said. “One, they're held back by transportation, and then two, they're held back by lack of instruction and educational opportunities.”

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