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How one school district is turning to AI to solve its bus driver shortage

How AI tackles school bus driver shortages
How AI is helping to tackle school bus driver shortages 04:04

The nationwide shortage of school bus drivers has left many students without reliable transportation. In 2023, the number of bus drivers nationwide in K-12 schools dropped to about 192,400, down 15.1% since 2019, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite offering 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 a budget for about 110 bus drivers, but only managed to hire around 60. To address the shortage, the school district partnered with RouteWise AI. The rideshare company HopSkipDrive developed the AI technology being tested.

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

AI can produce a first draft of routes within hours, and finalize them over a weekend, according to McFarland.

Now, District 11 operates about 55 bus routes, supplemented by rideshare 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 that AI tool. Just this past year, the software has saved the district more than half a million dollars. 

Parents like Ezekiel Bossert appreciate the service. 

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

His son, Dezmund, a 5th grader, finds it helpful, too. 

"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," said Dezmund.

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

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

"They'd get left behind twice," he said. "Once, they get left behind by transportation, and then two, they'd get left behind by the lack of instruction and educational opportunity."

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