SAS® helps Boston Public Schools improve bus transportation system

With the support of DataKind, SAS® Analytics helps district consolidate bus stops for greater efficiencies and savings

As the new school year starts in Boston, the city is expecting to see fewer, but more efficiently assigned bus stops – resulting in less bus traffic on its busy roads. This is due in part to a data-driven initiative, led by SAS and developed in collaboration with DataKind, to help Boston Public Schools (BPS) improve its busing system.

BPS is the oldest public school system in the United States, and last year it provided transportation for 25,000 students via 650 buses across a collective 45,000 miles. Within this complex system, BPS buses made 20,200 unique stops at nearly 5,000 different locations each day. In an effort to better handle this complex system, BPS worked with SAS to understand where and how it could make improvements to its busing system – one of which was to reduce the number of bus stops.

“Improving our transportation system, in terms of both increasing the quality of the service we provide and reducing costs, is a high priority for the district,” said John Hanlon, Chief of Operations at BPS. “The insights SAS was able to give us made a real impact on our approach to providing transportation to BPS students.”

SAS Analytics revealed that the district could operate more efficiently and cost-effectively by reducing the number of bus stops anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent. Simply put – fewer stops means fewer buses, which can lead to better on-time performance, less traffic and fewer hours on the road to get to school or home. With this approach, cost savings could be funneled directly back to the schools. In addition, these changes will lead to improved air quality – a welcome environmental benefit to Boston residents.

SAS’ efforts also helped BPS think differently about stop assignments. Previously, students were assigned to a stop within a mile of their home. With SAS, BPS was able to create more tailored walk-to-stop maximums for each student by factoring in variables such as the student’s grade and the safety of that student’s neighborhood. This combined with the bus stop reductions allowed BPS to deliver a less complex, more effective transportation system for students.

The collaboration with SAS and DataKind was the first step in a larger effort by BPS to lower transportation costs and increase efficiencies for the school district. The insights from the analysis work done by SAS led the district to also evaluate how the reduced bus stops would affect bus routes and potential bell times, so they coordinated a national-level, several-month-long, virtual “hack-a-thon” called the Transportation Challenge.  

The results gained from this challenge validated the initial recommendations made by SAS regarding the best ways to consolidate Boston bus stops. “I’ve always said that data without analytics is value not yet realized,” said Oliver Schabenberger, Chief Technology Officer at SAS. “This project with BPS allowed us to apply our advanced analytics capabilities – and expertise – to a problem that is faced by many school districts. Analyzing BPS’ bus stop data allowed us to give them the information they needed to make more informed decisions about how they should improve their bus transportation system. These improvements will ultimately have a positive impact on students, teachers and parents.”

Will Eger, Strategic Projects Manager at BPS, is speaking at the annual SAS Analytics Experience event in Washington, D.C. to discuss this project in more detail.

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