The Howard County Public School System recently reached out to the University of Maryland (UMD) to develop a new tool for school bus routes to facilitate informed decisions regarding cost, benefit and the impact of potential changes to school start and dismissal times.
To optimize HCPSS bus routes, the district partnered with the A. James Clark School of Engineering at UMD to put together a mathematical model that uses data on route locations and schedules to group compatible routes into what transportation administrators call tours.
The result is a set of tools offering on-time pickup and drop off with the fewest possible buses. The tool can also be potentially applicable to student transportation departments around the country.
Ali Haghani, UMD professor of civil and environmental engineering, said school bus routing and scheduling is a difficult problem to solve, and it generally “takes a significant amount of computation time to solve these types of problems to optimality.”
He added that “our model and solution algorithm enables us to solve the problem in a matter of seconds, and therefore we are able to analyze numerous scenarios very effectively.”
The Howard County school board is currently considering four proposed models for new start and dismissal times for elementary, middle and high schools, since the issue has significant implications for students, school administrations, families, communities and budgets.
“With UM’s help, we are more accurately able to define the cost of each model and possibly save on the number of buses needed, even if school start and dismissal times do not change,” said HCPPS Communications Specialist Jessica Goldstein.
The current HCPPS student transportation budget for FY17 is roughly $36 million, and the four models suggests a fleet size ranging from 455 to 523 buses, which is larger than what HCPSS currently contracts out to private bus companies. However, HCPPSS officials said they intend to fully use the UMD model to optimize route efficiency even if the school board decides to continue with the current time schedule.
HCPSS held a press conference Jan. 19 to discuss how the partnership with the University of Maryland helped the transportation efficiencies.
“Even modest adjustments to school opening and closing times can have impacts on our entire community,” said Superintendent Renee Foose at the press conference. “By reaching out to our state’s flagship research university for support with this process, HCPSS has gained access to the most complete, accurate and timely information possible to support scheduling decisions and optimize transportation operations.”
Currently the 453 HCPSS school buses travel more than 30,000 miles each day to transport students to the 76 Howard County public schools.
The HCPSS School Board is scheduled to vote on one of the four models on Feb. 23.