The District 200 school board is poised to contract with an Uber-like ridesharing company to transport special education students to and from Oak Park and River Forest High School in the middle of the day.
During a committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 14, Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said the administration is recommending that the board approve a contract with Zum Services Inc. at a regular meeting on Jan. 23.
If the contract is approved, drivers employed by Zum will replace cabs and buses from Grand Prairie, the company that provides transportation for OPRF's general student population, as the primary means by which special education students who attend OPRF full-time, but off-site, commute to and from the high school.
Unlike Uber, however, Zum is a ridesharing company that focuses exclusively on transporting students. According to Tech Crunch, the company is essentially "a mobile app that enables parents to schedule rides for their kids from fully vetted drivers. It also partners with school districts to support their transportation needs. To date, the company has partnered with 150 school districts across the country and transported more than 500,000 students."
Mark Rising, an account executive with Zum Services, said the company is currently in seven states and looking to expand. Rising said the company entered the Illinois market last November.
"We're not here to take away yellow bus business, because that's the most cost-effective, safest way to transport students in your district; rather, we're trying to help districts with an alternative transportation," Rising told board members on Jan. 14.
"We personalize the service, so there's a consistent driver and there's technology around it," he said, adding that district officials like Carolyn M. Gust, D200's director of purchasing and transportation, can use a dashboard to monitor the rides in real time. The parents also have an app similar to one used by Uber or Lyft that allows them to see where their students are at in real time.
The dashboard tool "includes a picture of the vehicle and driver, as well as the vehicle's license plate number," Gust explained in a Jan. 14 memo.
"The driver doesn't have to touch the phone, because I know there was a rule last July — no touching your cell phone, so our drivers do not touch their cell phone," Rising said.
Gust said that Zum has been transporting students on a trial basis this school year and that "feedback from parents has been very positive and administration/staff are very pleased with the service provided by Zum staff and drivers."
Rising, who said that he's a former Indian Prairie School District 204 board member and father of children who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), explained that all of Zum's drivers hold Class D school bus driver's licenses and receive rigorous school bus driver training. All of the drivers' vehicles are inspected twice a year and must meet all requirements established by the Illinois Department of Transportation, Gust said. The drivers are also fully insured by Zum, she said.
District officials said it's difficult to provide a precise estimate of potential cost-savings because transporting out-placement special education students is fluid and varies throughout the school year.
But a price comparison between Zum and Grand Prairie, which is based on the number of special education students who had to be transported in December, shows that the district would have saved approximately $10,511 with Zum that month.
The approximate savings for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year is $73,584, Pruitt-Adams said.
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