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Optimizing bus routes helps funnel cost savings back to schools

Boston Public Schools uses SAS® Analytics to consolidate stops, improve student experience and save money

With public school districts across the US often underfunded, any money that can be redirected into core educational efforts is a boon for schools – and students. Cost savings can lead to more teachers, better facilities or new books, supplies and technology.

Due to these pressures, Boston Public Schools (BPS) began to look for ways to reduce costs while improving educational outcomes. As part of this effort, the transportation department turned to its busing system to examine how it could make changes that could benefit the classroom, traffic and the budget. With an annual transportation budget of $120 million, compromising nearly 10 percent of the district’s overall appropriation, any savings could have a significant effect.

Because of SAS, we've found new ways to consolidate bus stops, which leads to savings for the school districts without putting students in unsafe situations, and keeping them close to home in terms of the distance to their bus stops. John Hanlon Chief of Operations

BPS turned to SAS Analytics to optimize its bus routes, improving quality of service to students while using fewer buses. SAS used BPS data to optimize the best bus routes and stops to meet the needs of its students. As a result, the district has been able to redirect the money saved toward enhancing educational quality.

A better way to get from point A to B

The oldest public school system in America, BPS operates 125 schools serving 57,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade. In 2016, the district provided transportation for 25,000 students via 650 buses across 45,000 miles. This adds up to 20,200 unique stops at nearly 5,000 locations each day.

“We have a generous assignment process where students have a wide array of school choice,” says John Hanlon, Chief of Operations for BPS. “Plus, because of the locations of special education programs or English as a Second Language programs, it adds to a complicated transportation system. Students are transported across the city in the morning and afternoon, close to an hour each way in some cases.”

This effort can cause on-time performance challenges that affect students and their families, as well as an expensive transportation system for the school district to maintain.

The district used the same legacy bus stops year after year. The logistics behind these stops largely weren’t adjusted over time, which was driving up costs. The district wanted to consolidate and streamline routes. The software used to plan bus routes required significant manual adjustments, making it impossible to rapidly evaluate the systemwide impacts of any changes.

“When assigning stops, the district had applied blanket rules to all students,” says Will Eger, Strategic Project Manager. “For example, every student should walk less than half a mile to his or her bus stop. In reality, individual students were walking a wide range of distances. Nor did the stops take into account important factors like the student’s age or neighborhood safety. We needed a way to automatically account for all of those factors without dramatically increasing costs.”

Strategic route consolidation quickly yields benefits

The district needed a method to more strategically designate bus stops. SAS Analytics analyzes a wide variety of factors to reduce the number of bus stops to cut costs while better serving the needs of students. The transportation group can enter different sets of constraints into SAS Analytics and see the impact on the total number of stops across the entire system.

For example, the transportation group looked at how many stops it could cut under various route consolidation scenarios. “SAS enables us to understand the policy implications of various tradeoffs throughout the system,” Hanlon says. “Before, we didn't really control for the average distance that students walked by their grade or age, and we didn't control for neighborhood safety. Now, we can integrate that along with location and other information to better serve the students.”

BPS has begun rolling out individualized walk-to-stop maximums for each student – all while reducing the number of bus stops. Strategic stop placement has been a big part of the story for a district that last year eliminated nearly 50 buses (about 8 percent of the total) for a long-term cost savings that’s expected to top $5 million.

The reduction in force has also had significant environmental benefits. “We’ve saved about 13,000 pounds of carbon emissions a day, which is huge,” Eger says.

“Because of SAS, we've found new ways to consolidate bus stops, which leads to savings for the school districts without putting students in unsafe situations, and keeping them close to home in terms of the distance to their bus stops,” Hanlon says. “It also allows us to think differently about the power of analytics, and what it can bring to the transportation system as a whole.” 

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Challenges

  • Reduce public school system transportation costs.
  • Establish strategic stop assignments that better meet student needs.

Solution

SAS® Analytics

Benefits      

  • Walk-to-stop distances are now tailored to each student’s grade and neighborhood safety.
  • Bus routes have been consolidated; the district now has 20 percent fewer stops.
  • Long-term cost savings are expected to top $5 million by eliminating the need for 50 buses.
  • Carbon emissions have been reduced by 13,000 pounds per day.
The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.

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