skip to main content

HCPSS Works with University of Maryland to Use Science, Engineering to Improve School Transportation

Posted: January 19th, 2017

New Mathematical Model Also Informing School Start, Dismissal Time Decisions

The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) today announced that it is adopting a new, state-of-the-art mathematical modeling tool developed by the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering to make its school bus operations the most efficient and cost-effective transportation system of its kind. The tool also is being used to more accurately identify transportation costs associated with four models under consideration by the Howard County Board of Education for new school start and dismissal times.

“We are using science and engineering to make informed decisions about school start and dismissal times and to maximize our existing resources,” said Dr. Renee A. Foose, Superintendent of the Howard County Public School System.

Pupil transportation represents one of the most significant considerations related to school schedules, because increasing the number of routes, buses or drivers to meet scheduling goals could add several million dollars each year to the school system budget.

“School bus routing and scheduling is a difficult problem to solve. It generally takes a significant amount of computation time to solve these type of problems to optimality,” said Dr. Ali Haghani, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Our model and solution algorithm enables us to solve the problem in a matter of seconds, and therefore we were able to analyze numerous scenarios very effectively.”

To aid in making well-informed decisions, HCPSS sought the expertise of University of Maryland researchers and students in the QUEST Honors program, who designed the mathematical modeling tool to evaluate bus route efficiency.

“The QUEST student team worked closely with HCPSS transportation experts to create a database of bus routes and generate tours for different bell times. They then provided their data to Professor Haghani to continue the study,” said Dr. Jeffrey W. Herrmann, academic director of the QUEST Honors Program and a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Systems Research.

Using the new tool, HCPSS is able to analyze a potential opening and closing time scenario in just one minute, results which would require days to produce using more traditional methods. The tool also can be used to make improvements to the current school bus routes if none of the four proposed models are approved for new start and dismissal times.

The tool has already been used to analyze efficiencies in current HCPSS bus routes, contributing to safety or service quality. Currently, 453 HCPSS school buses travel more than 30,000 miles each day to transport students to the 76 Howard County public elementary, middle and high schools.

“Even modest adjustments to school opening and closing times can have impacts on our entire community,” Superintendent Foose said. “By reaching out to our state’s flagship research university for support with this process, HCPSS has gained access to the most complete, accurate and timely information possible to support scheduling decisions and optimize transportation operations.”