A School Bus System Gains Efficiency

Client: Northshore School District

Location: King and Snohomish Counties

School bus transportation is an essential service for many students, guaranteeing them a safe and reliable way to get from home to the classroom. Although the purpose of a school bus is simple, the system in which it operates comprises numerous shifting variables and isn’t simple at all.

Northshore School District’s bus transportation system was under a lot of stress—there were not enough school buses to accommodate the number of elementary school students who required a ride to school. Because of resource and personnel restrictions, purchasing more buses and hiring more drivers was not a viable option.

To get all the students to school, the district implemented staggered bell times (starting the school day for groups of students of the same grade level at different times), allowing for buses to make multiple trips along the same routes to pick up students. Although the solution solved the transportation issue, it caused concern for some families as it meant that some children wouldn’t be able to go to school until later in the morning.

Additionally, our detailed student enrollment assessments by grade level found that projected district-wide growth was expected to again put stress on the transportation system. An increase in students will require major gains in efficiency to keep the transportation system running smoothly.

As part of an initial phase of our work with Northshore, we investigated a suite of options that would relieve pressure on the transportation system. Our investigation included:

  • How the current school boundary scenario impacts school enrollment, demographics, and school capacities
  • A projected five-year enrollment for each school, with particular attention to geographic areas of growth and that growth’s impact on school capacities
  • An analysis of bus ridership to determine the best utilization of bus resources
  • Bus stop spacing and potential for consolidating bus stops
  • Other potential options to increase the efficiency of the bus system, such as mixed-grade ridership, secondary bus barn location, and a review of ridership eligibility

Our findings will be used to inform a second phase of work, which will take a deep dive into which optimization options will be the most effective for the district.

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_J. Axelrod

Jennifer Axelrod

Senior GIS Analyst

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