Optimizing routes for student pickup and dropoff with HopSkipDrive and Nextmv

To solve the complex transportation challenges of school districts nationwide, HopSkipDrive leverages Nextmv’s building blocks to develop its proprietary and customizable student routing solution.

Within the last year, many stories have surfaced about the challenges facing local communities when it comes to shuttling students to and from school. It’s a multi-faceted problem constrained by budgets, driver staffing and availability, student location and accessibility, school bell times, and more — all of which was compounded by the pandemic and its aftermath.

This complex transportation problem is one challenge HopSkipDrive is solving while accounting for the safety, equity, and care of students. HopSkipDrive is a technology company that empowers school districts, government agencies, and nonprofits by providing solutions that complement traditional yellow school buses. HopSkipDrive provides a marketplace that arranges care-centered transportation, connecting kids to highly-vetted caregivers on wheels. In addition to its marketplace, HopSkipDrive offers software and advisory services to help schools and school districts solve their biggest transportation challenges. RouteWise AI™ is HopSkipDrive’s award-winning flagship software and advisory product. 

In contrast to other routing solutions on the market, RouteWise AI does not simply rearrange a district’s vehicle assets; it identifies specific recommendations to improve the entire transportation plan, including how to ensure buses are full and supplement with the most effective arrangement of vans and small vehicles. RouteWise AI can then easily evaluate the operational impact of potential district policy changes such as adjustments to bell times or transportation eligibility. If needed, HopSkipDrive can also provide a network of highly vetted drivers with small vehicles through their CareDriver network, which can supplement a district’s other transportation options, helping improve efficiency, save costs, and strengthen the student experience. 

“We’re a technology leader that understands what it means to move students around,” said Dustin Kress, Director of Software and Advisory at HopSkipDrive. Kress, a former educator and operations leader in the public school system, has first-hand experience with the traditional manual approaches for route planning, which involve pen, paper, spreadsheets, educated guesswork, and several days to weeks to respond to emerging needs. “We can do better with data and innovation in student transportation. That’s the work HopSkipDrive is investing in. We can augment existing systems and help school districts work through how to address driver shortages or budget constraints.” 

Every school district is different, Kress explained. ”I’ve yet to find one that’s a carbon copy of another.” They have unique communities, politics, and processes to represent when it comes to generating routes. This meant they couldn’t accept a “cookie cutter” solution, as Kress put it, but the team also knew they could accelerate their offering and services by working with the right technology partner.

“We were looking for the right technology partner to provide us with a foundation on which we could build our offering, ” explained Kress. This led the HopSkipDrive team to Nextmv, a platform that accelerates decision AI development for large-scale logistics problems such as routing, scheduling, and more. The HopSkipDrive team leveraged Nextmv’s platform alongside internal technologists and transportation experts to build RouteWise AI™ to generate optimized routes while adhering to the multitude of constraints across school districts. 

Doug Bright, Product Manager at HopSkipDrive, shared that the team uses upwards of 30 route optimization features, in addition to numerous custom elements. HopSkipDrive adapts the platform to their use case, such as time windows for representing bell times and compatibility attributes for representing student accessibility needs. 

The HopSkipDrive team is also able to leverage routing model testing and CI/CD capabilities through Nextmv to help iterate on route plans and manage model versions as they deploy to production. “We’re running millions of different scenarios,” said Kress. “What if the route looks like this? Or like that? And you get to something that reduces transit time or the number of required vehicles and you see if you can scale that across the system. That optimization is what our clients are coming to us for.”

“We are incredibly supported by the Nextmv team,” shared Kress. “The people involved on the Nextmv team are responsive and excited about the problem we’re trying to solve.”

With Nextmv’s platform, the HopSkipDrive team can dedicate more of their focus to improving solutions for their clients, school districts, and communities they serve through their products and support. Providing optimized routes improves budgeting, increases efficiency, expands serviceability, and reduces stress on district staff, students, and parents. 

Earlier this year, HopSkipDrive shared results from one school district that leveraged RouteWise AI, driving meaningful outcomes such as increasing on-time arrivals from 85% to 99%, reducing carbon emissions by 31%, and identifying opportunities to reduce their capital budget by 40% over 10 years - helping fund a pay increase for the district’s bus drivers. 

As local communities continue to recover from challenges posed by the pandemic and face new ones today, the HopSkipDrive team remains dedicated to delivering solutions that work for school districts, staff, parents, and students. Said Kress, “We’re excited about the ability to empower people who are on the ground and in these districts, serving tens of thousands of students.”

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