Starting this school year, Howard County is innovating school bus services for public school students and their families.
Howard County is transforming how its K-12 public school students and families access and use school buses. The County recently contracted Zūm, a Silicon Valley-based company already working in many school districts around the country, to modernize the school system’s bus services. The contract — worth $81 million over three years — is to run 230 bus routes, about half the routes in Howard County. It is set to start for the 2023-2024 school year.
Zūm’s website says it’s “100% carbon neutral” with “electric fleets.” The company currently operates in California, Washington, Illinois, and Texas, with routes in D.C., New York, Oregon, Arizona, and Florida “coming soon.”
A press release from Zūm reads:
This is our east coast debut, and we’ve been working hard to make sure we knock it out of the park. At our launch event, we heard from our drivers how thrilled they were to start the new school year, and we were all inspired by HCPSS Superintendent Michael Martirano, who was the life of the celebration.
For months, our teams in Maryland have been working hard to recruit the best drivers, and train them to give HCPSS the best transportation experience possible. We’ve hosted events all over town, met with local leaders, and made sure that we’re prepared to really wow the students, families, drivers, and school administrators of Howard County, Maryland. Check out the photos from our back to school events and celebrations below!
The Baltimore Banner wrote about the contract and new changes to Howard County school buses. The new bus system offers unique features for county families using school buses, including the ability to track buses en route:
You can now track packages on their way to your front door, and you can your track car keys when you misplace them. Starting this year, some Howard County parents will be able to track their child’s school bus.
Now parents can track their kid’s bus on the Zūm app, both to know when to send their child out to meet their driver in the morning, and to ensure that they arrived on time.
Furthermore, parents can rate every ride through the Zūm app.
The new buses will also feature several new safety measures. Each bus has artificial intelligence (AI) and an onboard driver cam that gives each Zūm driver a running safety score “to encourage drivers to avoid sloppy driving habits such as rolling stops at stop signs.” The buses also have outside cameras, which can be used to issue tickets to motorists who don’t slow down or stop for the bus. Additionally, younger, smaller students will each have a fold-down safety harness, and older students will access seat belts. The buses also have air conditioning.
Starting pay ranges from $26 to $30 per hour depending on experience for Zūm school bus drivers.
Zūm hopes to have an all-electric fleet in the County within five years of operation. Long before Zūm came along, Howard rolled out an electric school bus pilot program in 2020 under an almost $1 million grant.