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Zum uses a mix of cars, van and school buses to get kids to school on time. Photo: courtesy of Zum

The pandemic accelerated changes in the education system, and now that many U.S. school systems are reopening or planning onsite teaching for the fall, the school transit system is evolving, too.

What's happening: Zum, a California-based startup that launched six years ago as an Uber-like ride service for families with children, is now working directly with school districts to modernize student transportation.

  • It developed a mobile platform for route planning and optimization that includes tracking software to let school officials and parents monitor every student's trip to and from school each day.

The big picture: Student transportation is the largest mass transit system in the United States — a $28 billion industry — and for most districts, it's the second-largest budget item after teacher’s salaries.

  • But it's inefficient, leading to long travel times for many kids and unexpected delays that trickle down to classrooms and communities.
  • For example, teachers have to slow down an entire class when students are late, and parents need to juggle irregular drop-off and pickup times. Drivers face inconsistent schedules, too.

The details: Co-founder Ritu Narayan and her brothers started Zum because of her own challenge getting her two children to and from school while working a demanding job at eBay.

  • Originally targeting the ride service toward busy parents like herself, the startup later shifted gears to provide comprehensive transportation services to school districts.
  • Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, Calif., is the first district to sign on with a 10-year, $100-million contract. San Francisco is next, starting this fall.

How it works: Zum took responsibility for transporting 1,300 special education students across 87 schools in Oakland starting in April, when schools reopened after the pandemic.

  • It cut the number of school buses by 29 percent, relying instead on a mix of buses, vans and cars for efficiency.
  • Drivers get real-time route updates on the Zum app, plus personalized information on every student's needs, and the ability to report and resolve issues in real time.
  • Parents and school officials also get real-time visibility of the students' status.

What they're saying: "We used to get a lot of complaints from parents saying, 'Where's my bus?'," said Kimberly Raney, head of transportation operations for the Oakland Unified School District.

  • "Now with the app, parents can log in and track the bus. Parents are a lot happier with the service."

What's next: Zum plans to fully electrify its fleet by 2025.

Go deeper

NYC COVID vaccine mandate takes effect for school employees

Marisa Wiezel and Caitlin Kenny, co-teachers at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 in New York City, give a lesson to their masked students on Sept. 27. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

New York City's vaccine mandate for school staff members went into effect on Monday, covering nearly 148,000 employees, AP reports.

Why it matters: The vaccine mandate makes New York City — the nation's largest school system — one of the first school districts in the country to require staffers to receive the COVID-19 shot, per AP.

Oct 5, 2021 - Axios Denver

DPS doubles down on healthy meal options for students

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Denver students are saying goodbye to mystery meat on their lunch trays.

What’s happening: Denver Public Schools is working to become a national leader in food quality, aiming to serve 100% of its meals from scratch for the district’s 90,000+ students.

Garland: Federal authorities will respond to threats against school employees

Anti-vaccine protesters stage a protest outside of the San Diego Unified School District office to protest a vaccination mandate for students. Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday directed the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices to meet with law enforcement over the next 30 days to address growing threats to school board members, teachers and other employees in public schools.

Why it matters: The order comes amid a "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence" directed toward school staff, Garland wrote in the memorandum to federal authorities.