After a Year of Routine Bus Route Cancellations, KCPS Ditches STA and Announces Zum as New Transportation Provider 

After a year of unreliable and inconsistent service from Student Transportation of America, KCPS contracts with Zum in getting students to and from school. The post After a Year of Routine Bus Route Cancellations, KCPS Ditches STA and Announces Zum as New Transportation Provider  appeared first on Kansas City Defender.

After a Year of Routine Bus Route Cancellations, KCPS Ditches STA and Announces Zum as New Transportation Provider 
Image of Zum School Bus (School Transportation News/Zum)

Background

In 2019, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) parted ways with long time bus contract company First Student and enlisted the services of Student Transportation of America (STA). That following year, a global pandemic shifted the world and many schools across the nation felt the impact of a massive bus driver shortage. Since then, KCPS and STA have struggled to provide students reliable bus transportation.

For parents, the 2023-2024 school year was a standout year of STAs shortcomings. Students missed several days of school because of canceled bus routes, and their academics suffered as a resultFor parents, their frustration extended to the lack of transparency from KCPS–all year long parents were asking questions and not getting answers.

Parents have been feeling uncertain and concerned about transportation for the upcoming year. And now, KCPS has finally provided a response: Zum, a student transportation service, will now take over the duties of getting students to and from school for the 2024-2025 school year.

The KCPS and STA Shortcomings  

Since the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year, students at KCPS have grappled with the challenges of unreliable bus transportation. Throughout the year, both KCPS and STA have frequently canceled bus routes, forcing parents to seek alternative transportation for their children. This has resulted in students arriving late to school or not being able to attend school altogether. 

Text messages parent showing numerous bus route cancellations from STA (anonymous parent)

STA has been providing bus services to KCPS since 2019, but parents expressed that this year in particular has been tough to deal with. 

“Personally, I think that’s where most of the problems lie,” a parent who requested to remain anonymous told The Defender, “[is] when they switched bus companies and this year has been so persistent,” the parent explained.

This same parent–who has two children in the district–shared text alerts they received from KCPS schools notifying them of route cancellations. Based on the screenshots shared with The Defender, KCPS sent this parent a total of 29 text alerts between August 29 and January 30. Of the 29 text alerts, their children’s bus routes were canceled 28 times.

“I know my kid has missed about 20 days of school because their bus route was canceled,”

For another parent, Brittany Foley, frustration began when the neighborhood school her child previously attended was shut down. The closure forced parents to act quick and enroll over 200 students into a new school and find alternative means for transportation.

 “My child’s school was shut down last year and neighborhood kids are [now] bussed to elementary schools that are outside our neighborhood.,” Foley explained.

As a recurring theme, KCPS and STA have failed to provide reliable and consistent transportation for those students as well. 

“If you are going to shut down our schools, at least make sure our children can get to school” Brittany Foley

KCPS and STA’s failure to provide reliable transportation has also had a great impact on students’ academics. While KCPS does not penalize students for days missed due to bus cancellations, the students’ education is disrupted due to missed days and many have been playing catchup with assignments.

Text message Foley received from another parent that reads, “Bus 2 isn’t running does [redacted] need a ride to school” (Brittany Foley)

“Our kids need to go to school or they will fall behind in school and might become at risk.” the district parent explained. 

Like many other area districts, KCPS does have a virtual learning alternative known as Alternative Methods of Instructions (AMI) Day. However, AML Day is typically declared for inclement weather and is not an alternative option for students who do not report to school due to bus cancellations. Most times, students are left with no alternative option to access learning for the day. 

Foley, who is originally from Texas, expressed how uncommonly frustrating this was for her. “I have never lived in an area that has problems with simply getting children to school.”

She added, “KCPS needs to make a serious change in the transportation area.”

And KCPS has done just that. 

Zum is taking over transportation duties

On March 21, KCPS announced that the district had reached an agreement with Zum to take over student transportation starting next school year. According to KSHB the $14 million contract will span over three years beginning this summer. 

Zum was founded in 2015 by Ritu Narayan as a ridesharing service for kids. Originally an app that allowed parents to schedule rides for their children, Zum also partnered with schools districts to assist with student transportation services.  It has since evolved into a fast-growing student transportation service and is currently servicing over 4,000 schools and districts.

Image: Ritu Narayan, Founder and CEO of Zum (Forbes)

Zum, according to their website, is modernizing student transportation with their cloud-based platform designed to provide transparency and safety. Zum will provide app services that will allow parents to view the bus driver’s profile as well as provide real-time tracking and notifications about child pickup and dropoff.

Zum also focuses on healthy efficiency that reconsiders the configuration of fleets and emissions. The transportation service has committed to having an all-electric fleet by 2027 and currently offers a variety of sizes including SUVs and minibuses. Zum’s vehicle fleet and route designs are intended to save school systems money.

“We can’t continue to expect that a one-size-fits-all vehicle works for every student.” their website reads, “It may make sense to break up certain long routes, for example, and have an SUV serve children in one neighborhood…”

In their communication to families, KCPS expressed confidence that Zum will “offer safe and reliable services to our students and families.” The district also informed families that, through their agreement with Zum, administrators will be allowed to optimize routes and provide staff with real-time data and performance reports. 

Zum’s electric vehicle fleets in various sizes (Zum)

Despite the optimism and “modern” technology, Zum has also had their own problems with getting students to school. Earlier this school year, Zum took over student transportation for a school district in Maryland and the start of the school year got off to a bumpy ride. According to reports, parents were searching for ways to get their children to school two weeks into the school year because of bus cancellations and Zum’s driver shortage. 

According to another report by the Daily Dot, Zum’s problems extended beyond route cancellations. Parents were concerned about their data privacy with the app service, Zum’s GPS misrouted drivers, and school administrators struggled to get in contact with Zum’s customer service. 

The report also reveals that Zum did improve after the rough start. Based on the superintendent’s 60-day review, on-time pickups have increased substantially and Zum began operating as expected.


KCPS informed families that Zum will provide state-of-the-art service and peace of mind with their enhanced safety features, transparency, and increased technology. Given STA’s transportation woes this year, families certainly have a right to be skeptical of that.As of now, Zum is seeking to hire more bus drivers and will be hosting a hiring event on May 7 from 9am to 6pm on Courtyard Kansas City Country Club Plaza.

The Defender previously reached out to Zum, KCPS and Student Transportation of America for comment, but have not heard back. 

The post After a Year of Routine Bus Route Cancellations, KCPS Ditches STA and Announces Zum as New Transportation Provider  appeared first on Kansas City Defender.