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HomeOperationsOakland, California Transportation Director Discusses Electrification Partnership with Zum

Oakland, California Transportation Director Discusses Electrification Partnership with Zum

Oakland Unified School District in Northern California made national news recently for its announcement that contractor Zum Services is electrifying 100 percent of the fleet with bidirectional charging for V2G. School Transportation News recognized the great feat by awarding Pallav Prakash, the director of electrification program operations for Zum as its 2024 Innovator of the Year.

Kim Raney, Oakland’s director of transportation, said the school district has always outsourced its school bus services. When Raney joined the district about eight years ago, Oakland was contracting with a different large national contractor. But all management and recordkeeping at the time was performed via paper, and complications arose.

With the emergence of rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, she noted the advent of data and ridership verification. Even FedEx allows customers to track their packages, she added. But there was no monitoring of Oakland school buses, and some students were waiting outside their homes for an additional five to 10 minutes due to late arriving buses.

She said parents would receive a phone call saying their child’s pickup time was 7:15 a.m., for example, and the student was expected to be at the curb at least 10 minutes prior to arrival. But she said if a bus driver called out sick or the bus was running late, there was no way of notifying parents. Plus, she said with all the shootings in the Oakland area, it’s dangerous to have students standing on the corner for 30 minutes, especially when the students have special needs.

That’s when she said Zum introduced a technology dashboard so transportation staff and parents could monitor Oakland students and school buses. She said Oakland started contracting with Zum in 2017 and families connected with the drivers and technology. That’s when the relationship with Zum took off.

Raney said she started by giving Zum a handful of contacts to see if they would win over select families, which the company did. Oakland now contracts with Zum for all of its transportation operations, from school buses to vans.


Listen: (STN Podcast E217) From Submariner to Innovator of the Year: Fleet Electrification for Student Success


Even bigger of an accomplishment, starting in August every school bus on the lot will be 100 percent electric. Raney said that Oakland is the ideal city to go all-electric.

She noted that it is an exciting project that could benefit the kids. Prakash, Zum’s director of electrification program management, embraced the challenge and considered multiple solutions.

“We don’t have a high mileage, we’re a pretty dense school district,” Raney said, adding that home-to-school routes are about 35- to 40-mile round trips. “He thought of every contingency. That’s what I really like about him — I’m an action person. I’m not a theory person.”

Prakash, meanwhile, created solutions based on possible situations and scenarios, Raney said. She shared that during her first meeting with Zum, he presented many charts when explaining the project scope.

“I felt like a little kid,” Raney said, adding that her knowledge of V2G was minimal at the time. “Understanding and learning all of this really takes an expert. I know my skill set is operational and transportation, I can motivate the hell out of a driver, I can make sure you’re in compliance.”

She noted that when speaking with other transportation directors, she feels they’ve taken to essentially throwing darts at a wall and seeing what sticks. But she said Vivek Garg, the co-founder and COO of Zum and Prakash are masters at electrification.

“[Prakash] really has empathy and he wants to do what’s right for the kids,” she shared. “It isn’t just about like a feather in his hat. ‘Let’s talk about what I can do differently and let me make this happen.’ And he really does care and think about every aspect of it.”

She noted Prakash answered any questions that she had throughout the process. Plus, she said she’s more encouraged as an individual and from a business standpoint to make emission changes and cut costs.

“He really has inspired me to think outside the box,” she said, adding that she runs the warehouse for the district and is also considering electrifying that fleet of vehicles.


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She added that the school bus drivers are very excited about the new electric technology, especially because the cles are going to provide a quiet, more comfortable ride for the children. She added the buses also come with air conditioning, which is a benefit for drivers as well.

In terms of advice for other directors, Raney said that without Zum she wouldn’t have had the bandwidth to capitalize on this project. She noted that transportation personnel are extremely busy with day-to-day operations, so she advised putting out an RFP on what districts need and want in a vendor partner and to set the parameters of the budget.

“It’s okay, you can always go back to the status quo or take a chance and be okay if something happens, then pivot,” she advised. “That’s scary in education because nobody wants to fail or mess up. But go with your heart. Because if your heart is in it for the kids and you’re doing what’s best for them. You’re never going to fail.”

July 2024

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