The Howard County Public School System in Maryland was short about 100 drivers even before 30 stayed home as the school year kicked off.  -  Image: Canva

The Howard County Public School System in Maryland was short about 100 drivers even before 30 stayed home as the school year kicked off.

Image: Canva

School transportation provider Zum has encountered challenges during its first week shuttling students for Howard County Public Schools in Maryland.

“We know disruptions to transportation this week have been an enormous stress on parents and children,” company officials wrote on Zum’s official blog. “For that, we would like to apologize to everyone impacted. Zum is actively working with HCPSS officials to remedy all outstanding issues and ensure that every student has access to reliable transportation services.”

California-based Zum won a competitive bid contract to serve Howard County earlier this year, proposing:

  • 230 bus routes.
  • 250 buses.
  • A parent-facing app for parents to get bus driver profiles and track a child’s progress in real-time.
  • A digital dashboard for district administrators and operators.
  • Real-time data reports to the school system to enable timely and effective decision-making.

But as the school year kicked off, the district cancelled bus routes and got complaints from families after buses arrived late or never showed up at all. Michael Martirano, superintendent for Howard County Public School System, blamed the issues on a bottleneck in buses and the failure of 30 Zum and other contracted drivers not showing up.

“Some of our bus drivers are new, they’re new to the county, they don’t fully have a grasp with comfort,” Martirano said, according to WBAL TV. “Like a student learning a new skill, they need time to practice. It creates a precarious situation and a domino effect.”

In their blog post, Zum indicated that delays were due to “stacked” bus routes:

“Traditionally, HCPSS has operated with two bell schedules. This year, for the first time, HCPSS rolled out three different bell schedules: 1) elementary school, 2) middle school, and 3) high school. There is very little time between each bell schedule …. Stacking routes means that, while one of our drivers may be fully on time in delivering elementary school students, he or she might be late when delivering middle or high school students.”

Zum stated that it also is afflicted by the nationwide school bus driver shortage, with Howard County down by about 100 drivers. Although the company has been recruiting and trying to hire new drivers, “we have experienced a significant logjam in this state certification process.”

The company has deployed a $500 per month bonus for drivers who go a full month without an absence and added an $8,000 signing bonus for new certified school bus drivers.

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About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Executive Editor

Wes Platt joined Bobit in 2021 as executive editor of School Bus Fleet Magazine. He writes and edits content about student transportation, school bus manufacturers and equipment, legislative issues, maintenance, fleet contracting, and school transportation technology - from classic yellow diesel buses to the latest EPA-funded electric, propane, and CNG vehicles.

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