Giving Compass' Take:

• Tim Newcomb explains how a team from MIT’s Operations Research Center improved Boston's school bus system saving time and money. 

• How can funders help districts improve school bus routes? Beyond cost, what factors need to be considered? 

• Learn about school bus routes and racial equity


Boston Public Schools had a problem. The district needed to figure out the best way to route its school buses, but solutions already on the market weren’t working. It couldn’t do the job on its own. So the district launched a public competition to get outside help.

The winner, a team from MIT’s Operations Research Center, created an algorithm that saved Boston schools $5 million and 1 million miles driven in its first year. One of the most expensive school transportation departments in the country was able to reduce its fleet by 8 percent, the largest single year-over-year drop in district history. And today, two years in, the district has dropped its number of trips by nearly 400, to 2,800, using around 620 buses in a system that is 20 percent more efficient.

While the best routing algorithms work well for logistics companies like FedEx and UPS, they don’t apply to school districts with specific constraints dictated by community priorities, state regulations and the local environment. “It is hard to have a framework that generalizes all these different types of problems,” Delarue says. “Every school district has a problem that is slightly different. This is just a mathematically difficult problem, one of the most difficult problems you can think of. The number of possibilities is enormous, and you need to prune all the bad solutions quickly to find good solutions.”

Read the full article about bus routes by Tim Newcomb at The 74.