Figuring Out School Bus Routes Is More Complicated Than Ever. Districts Are Turning to Technology for Help.

Figuring Out School Bus Routes Is More Complicated Than Ever. Districts Are Turning to Technology for Help.

A standard school bus usually shuttles around 70 children between their homes and school building each morning—or at least that was the standard before the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing requirements will make carrying that many students impossible this year in places like Arlington, Virginia, where school officials figure that keeping kids six feet apart means that buses can only accommodate 11 students.


“We transport a little over 11,000 students every day. How do we make that work?” asked Kristin Haldeman, the director of multimodal transportation planning for Arlington Public Schools.


Arlington, like many other systems across the country, is turning to technological solutions in the face of staggering transportation challenges brought on by the pandemic. The district is used to deploying software to determine how its roughly 200 buses navigate 154 daily routes, but this year has brought a unique set of circumstances. The plan for the school year is “a moving target,” with all students starting the fall semester remotely, Haldeman said. But, eventually, some kids could be headed back to the classroom, with the district likely using A/B scheduling that means students would be coming to school buildings in shifts two times a week. The busing puzzle this situation presents is too complicated for the system’s current routing software, which isn’t able to accommodate the ever-shifting scenarios that schools now have to plan for.


“The more efficient we can be with routing the better off we are given all the other challenges,” Haldeman said.


Instead, Haldeman turned to Dynamic Ideas Routing, a company founded by MIT researchers who worked with Boston Public Schools to route buses with an algorithm that saved the school system ..