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Celebrating the Women Transforming Transportation

Student transportation executive opens Women's History Month with introduction of fellow industry females who she draws inspiration from

As a child growing up in India, I watched my mother leave the workforce to ensure her kids could get to and from school safely. Decades later, I faced the same dilemma only I was in the U.S., and Silicon Valley, no less, the tech capital of the world.

I couldn’t believe that we still hadn’t come up with a way for kids to get to and from school, while allowing parents, and mothers specifically, to stay in the workforce. That’s why I founded Zūm to fix student transportation, and ensure that millions of working families didn’t have to choose between work and caring for their kids.

Zum was born because of my unique insight as a woman and as a mother. Women understand what it means to sacrifice. Mothers know intuitively how to go without and prioritize the ones they love. They also know how to juggle, balance competing interests and solve complex problems. Across the country, women are changing the student transportation industry, revolutionizing the way our children move, learn and live.

I’m proud of all the women in my industry, but I wanted to highlight a few of them who are doing truly exceptional work, exemplars of innovation and leadership:

An Out of the Box Thinker:

Kimberly Raney’s approach to student transportation isn’t just making headlines in Oakland, California., where she serves as the Executive Director of Transportation for Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) it’s making history in the U.S.

A former leader at FedEx, Raney couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible that we could track a package around the world, but still not know which school bus our children are on (or if they even got on the bus in the first place). Her determination and “out of the box” thinking (literally!) prompted OUSD to partner with my company, Zum, for its tech-enabled student transportation services.

Raney has continued to push for healthier, more modern student transportation, including a commitment to a 100 percent electric fleet of school buses. This coming school year, OUSD will become the first school district in California and in the nation to achieve a fully EV fleet. That’s a win for children, for families and for the planet, and an achievement worth celebrating.

An Advocate for Nationwide Change

Another pioneer in this space is Sue Gander, who runs the Electric School Bus Initiative at the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. The Center works to change the way cities are planned and designed so that they benefit people and our climate.

Gander has been leading the charge in electrification, with a goal of electrifying all 480,000 school buses in the U.S. by 2030. Her approach prioritizes equity and inclusion, creating safer and healthier communities for all.

As Gander explained to CNBC, “It’s really about supporting school districts, helping them understand ‘Where do electric buses fit into my fleet at the moment?’ … ‘How do I develop the infrastructure? How do I access the funding and financing that’s out there? And how do I involve the community in this process?’”

I respect and admire Gander, who’s spearheading the charge for safer, cleaner transportation across the nation. She’s a woman worth following.

A Forward-thinking Champion

A pioneer in student transportation for 35 years, Liz Sanchez joined Zum in 2022 as its executive vice president of student transportation. After a career that included roles at National Express School (NEXS) and a seat on the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) Board of Directors, Sanchez made the switch to Zum because she wanted to challenge the status quo and facilitate change for parents, students and administrators.

“Over the past few years, the pandemic highlighted the long-overdue need for digitization and agility in student transportation, and the recent impacts of climate change have demonstrated we must take swift action to help the planet,” Sanchez has said. “School districts and families alike are demanding that the system provide visibility, safety, and efficiency, all of which can be enhanced with the help of technology.”

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Superior Superintendents

School district superintendents are driving forces in modernizing and electrifying student transportation.

Leaders including Mary Skipper of Boston Public Schools, Dr. Jennifer Murray, of Reading School District in Pennsylvania, and Dr. Verletta White of Roanoke City Public Schools in Virginia, have been vocal about how modernizing the school bus experience improves students’ health, wellbeing and equity.

“Prioritizing the safety of Reading’s students during their commutes is our top priority,” Murray said.

An Outstanding Driver

School bus drivers are the heart of student transportation. For many children, their bus driver is the first smiling face they see each morning, and one of the last they see before they return home. In the U.S., the majority of school bus drivers are women.

San Francisco-based driver Marjorie Urbina has been driving a school bus for 21 years and loves her job. “After all these years, I still drive this bus with respect,” she told the New York Times last year. “I know what it can do. And with me doing that, it keeps me humble.”

Each day in the U.S., thousands of women working in the transportation industry, government organizations, school administration and behind the wheel ensure students have a safe and reliable ride to and from school. Thanks to all of them for working tirelessly to create a better world for our children and for motivating me to do the same.

Ritu Narayan is the CEO and founder of Zum, and was recently named a CNBC Changemaker as one of the 50 women leaders who are transforming business. She is also one of Goldman Sach’s Exceptional Entrepreneurs, Inc.’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur’s 100 Women of Influence, and the recipient of the 2023 Power of Women Award at the GSU+ASU Summit.


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