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Redesigning the yellow school bus experience
for parents
and their kids

Today we can easily track the delivery of a package or the arrival of a ride-share cab using an app at home.

However, as parents, we can’t track the yellow school bus carrying our most precious cargo, our child, or get notifications of when and where they will be picked up and/or dropped off.

At Zum, our mission is to modernize student transportation by enabling greater safety, equity, efficiency and sustainability for the communities we serve. The experience of parents and their families is at the very heart of our services and platform.

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A solvable challenge

The U.S. school bus fleet is double the size of all other mass transit combined, including buses, trains and airlines. Transportation is schools’ second-highest cost category, after salaries, totaling $28 billion a year nationwide. Yet the system is riddled with inefficiencies, from circuitous routes to under-capacity vehicles to one-size-fits all schedules that force students to spend too many precious hours each week in transit, rather than on critical learning and development.


While this essential component of public education in this country was designed to extend opportunity, it too often falls woefully short—and can even perpetuate inequality. Children from low-income households and those with special needs are more likely than their peers to depend solely on yellow buses for transportation—and are therefore disproportionately impacted by the system’s shortcomings.

At a time when transparency and agility rule the day in other industries, busing  remains opaque. Parents have no visibility into where their children are at any given moment or—often—who is driving them. This lack of transparency adds to daily stress and anxiety, as parents are forced to juggle competing priorities in an increasingly complex world. 

It doesn’t have to be this way!


Zum is bringing student transportation into a new era by enabling greater safety, sustainability, equity, and transparency.

Learn how Zum is bringing innovation to student transportation.


Providing transparency, safety and convenience through design

Zum is bringing innovation to the complex, opaque and outdated student transportation system in the United States. There are many nuances to conquer in this industry, along with ensuring the needs of parents, students, districts, schools, drivers and operators are met to create seamless experiences for all our constituents. To that end, creating a consistent, safe and reliable end-to-end experience that gives parents peace of mind is essential – and overdue.



Zūm, with its newly designed Parent App, is tackling the problem of outdated student transportation head-on and redefining the parent experience guided by the principles of: 


  • Transparency

  • Safety

  • Convenience

Parents now know the exact bus, the bus driver, when & where their child was picked up and dropped off and can track the location of their child’s school bus in real-time on a map. The parent experience is enhanced by providing an accurate estimated time of arrival (ETA) while the bus is enroute, along with real-time ride notifications. Self service functions such as canceling a ride are available, in addition to in-app support when help is needed.

"School transportation is complex and involves several overlapping factors."

Make no mistake, the Zum Parent App is not just showing vehicles’ GPS tracking information. School transportation is complex and involves several overlapping factors: there are buses which carry one or a handful of students, or ones that carry 60-70+ students. There are students with special needs and routes that require specialized and accessible buses. There are students who are picked up from their home or at a common stop with other children but are dropped off at an after-school program or at a different stop. And despite the complexities, the transportation system has to ensure each student is getting on the right bus and is dropped off at the right stop.


The Zum driver app integrated with RFID-enabled student bus cards, removes the concern that a child might get on the wrong bus route or get off at the wrong stop

GPS devices can track a bus, but to live up to the principles of designing the right experience for individual parents to track their child, the solution has to take into account all the above scenarios (and more). This includes ensuring each child is getting on the right bus, providing drivers with the correct information on their tablets installed on the bus to ensure each child is getting picked up and dropped off at the right location safely every single day.


To provide an accurate and reliable ETA daily, the solution has to account for real-time changes to travel time between stops for many reasons such as traffic, compliance and safety. It also needs multiple technical redundancies to ensure we are receiving the GPS location of each bus every few seconds regardless of issues such as cellular dead spots.

Experience highlights

Solving the complex challenges of student transportation through an integrated service and platform provides the foundation to deliver an elevated parent experience.



The app provides parents with a secure, seamless and straight-forward login experience.

As account setup is dictated by the information parents provide to districts, we provided guidance to help parents determine which phone numbers or emails to use to login.


Peace of mind


Ensuring your child is picked up safely and on time to and from school each morning and afternoon is a consistent source of stress for many parents.


The app keeps parents informed by providing visibility into the vehicle's real-time location at each stage of their child's ride, along with SMS and push notifications.

Parents are notified when their child's ride is underway and of the driver's imminent arrival at their child's pickup stop. 


Providing transparency while respecting privacy


Each ride must accommodate many passengers. This involves multiple pickup or dropoff stops per ride, which may be home addresses or common stops. 

The app redesign provides parents with relevant context of a student's route and estimated time of arrival (ETA) at their destination by communicating the number of stops remaining on the ride, together with a real-time ETA.

This approach serves the dual purpose of protecting the privacy of other students' home addresses on the same route while providing real-time route visualization.

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Relevant real-time updates


Through this redesign, parents now have complete visibility into both scheduled and actual pickup and dropoff times for their child.


Live ride tracking combined with RFID technology provides granular detail such as showing that a vehicle has physically arrived at school, but students have not yet disembarked the vehicle (often due to external factors such as traffic congestion around the school).  

Delays are dynamically and clearly surfaced, while early arrivals are communicated with appropriate context. For example, an early dropoff from school in the afternoon may alarm a parent if they are not yet present at the stop to receive their child. In this scenario, the app provides appropriate messaging to inform parents that the driver will wait at the stop until the original scheduled dropoff time.


Reimagining through empathy


Significant consideration was given to crafting useful, accurate and concise messaging to parents. While this may appear straightforward initially, analysis of many use cases shows that providing full transparency for parents while masking the operational complexity underlying each ride requires thoughtful problem-solving.

By adopting an empathetic mindset and striving for a frictionless user experience, we are able to give thousands of parents across the country peace of mind everyday through the Zum Parent App.

While this project had a simple goal of redesigning the parent experience on the Zūm App, to get it right – and to provide a modern, reliable and trustworthy user experience – we had to invest under the hood to build a modern and integrated  technology platform that:


  • Connects GPS signals from driver tablets

  • Uses a machine learning-based ETA engine and advanced routing/mapping solution

  • Sends real-time pickup or drop off notifications to parents as soon as their child scans Zūm’s RFID enabled bus cards during bus boarding or deboarding OR alerts drivers real-time on their tablet if a child is boarding the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong stop. 

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This unique integrated solution along with a functional and modern user interface redesign from frontend to backend is a testament to our customer-focused experience and how we are redefining school transportation – and why parents love Zūm. 

"This unique integrated solution along with a functional and modern user interface redesign... is a testament to our customer-focused experience and how we are redefining school transportation – and why parents love Zūm."


Measuring and learning

In our first parent sentiment study the Zūm app scored a high 4.27/5.00 across 10 dimensions of the product experience; and parents said they found the app easy to use, were able to interpret information clearly and are confident they know how to use the app.


This testimonial from a Zūm parent reinforces the impact of our redesign on the day-to-day lives of families throughout our school districts:

"I wanted to take a minute to say how much our family appreciates Zūm’s technology!


The Zūm app, with its real-time tracking, has made our lives better on a daily basis, calming our morning routines and getting each day (and afternoon) off on a good foot. We have always been grateful for our bus drivers and service over the years, but this year is the best yet."

With the growth of Zūm’s partnership with schools, parents across the country from San Francisco USD (student enrollment ~50,566), Seattle Public Schools (student enrollment ~51,474), Oakland USD (~35,489) and soon Howard County Public Schools (~57,676) & Spokane Public Schools (~28,000 ) have access to this experience.  Zum also provides alternate transportation routes in many others. 

And finally, Zūm Testimonial from Adam Swinyard, Superintendent of Spokane Public Schools expresses one of the many reasons school districts choose to partner with Zum:

"A parent always wants to know where their kid is, and we recognize that, and so I know that was something that was a priority for us going into this process. That there will be technology in place to really create that type of linkage for families to know where their students are at any given time when they are riding our transportation."

"The Zūm app, with its real-time tracking, has made our lives better on a daily basis, calming our morning routines and getting each day (and afternoon) off on a good foot."


While the team faced many design and technical hurdles, a key challenge we faced was how to provide much-needed transparency to parents and guardians while protecting the privacy of students along any given route. In the common case, a school bus route transports multiple children to a school campus. Some of the stops along the route may be a student’s home, and others may be common bus stops. Our team needed to make sure to preserve the privacy of home stops yet we also wanted to provide transparency as to the live location of the vehicle and the progress along the route. 

The team settled on a design that provided transparency by way of showing live location and current ETA times and giving visibility into the number of stops before a student’s pickup or dropoff. At the same time, the team preserved the privacy of all students on the route by not showing the exact locations of students’ stops and limiting the information provided to the relevant stops. 

This presented our team with another challenge: how to fit all the information into a phone screen. In order to tackle this problem, the team laid out the user journey and identified design patterns that could accommodate relevant information for each specific step in the journey. The outcome is a well-thought-through solution that takes into account student privacy while providing the necessary information needed to enhance parent experience.

"The outcome is a well-thought-through solution that takes into account student privacy while providing the necessary information needed to enhance parent experience."

Learn about the benefits of the Zum app from a Bay Area parent in this Good Morning America segment.

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Elegance through simplicity

Our users, just like the school districts we serve across the country, are very diverse, not necessarily tech-savvy, and English for many is not their first language. As a result, providing the information in the most accessible way, both verbally and visually, was very important for this project and experience. We spent a lot of effort to ensure our app redesign meets the needs of our users. In addition, we also had a third party do an independent Accessibility Conformance VPAT 2.4 report for our Zūm App for parents using Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Conformance Level A and AA to ensure it continues to meet international accessibility standards.


Zūm’s multimodal transportation model, from small vans to large yellow buses, brings additional challenges, making the technology powering the experience quite complex. The design’s goal was to mask them and make it elegantly simple and straightforward so anyone can use the app. While features are being built in an iterative way and continuous improvements are being made, the redesign effort has to be thought through with infusion from UX research a few steps ahead, so it is not consistently shifting.


Finally, and astonishingly, we did all this with a small and nimble team. 


Modernizing student transportation

Zūm is bringing student transportation into a new era by enabling greater safety, sustainability, equity, and transparency to the communities we serve.

Watch Zūm in action

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