Zūm wins $150M from San Francisco schools to modernize and electrify student transport

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has awarded Zūm, a startup that wants to upgrade student transportation, a five-year $150 million contract to modernize its transport service throughout the district.

Zūm, which already operates its rideshare-meets-bus service in Oakland, much of Southern California, Seattle, Chicago and Dallas, will be responsible for handling day-to-day operations, transporting 3,500 students across 150 school campuses starting this fall semester. The startup’s fleet of 206 buses, vans and cars is distributed based on specific use cases, placing students who live on busier routes on school buses and sending out cars and vans for others to increase efficiency. Zūm will also facilitate over 2,000 field trips per year for the school district.

Aside from Zūm’s five-year $53 million contract with Oakland Unified School District, which began in 2020, the SFUSD contract is the largest the startup has ever won. The company intends to use the funds to lease vehicles, hire drivers — salaried employees — improve customer and operational support, and research and develop product enhancements to support the contract, a spokesperson for Zūm told TechCrunch.

Zūm’s transportation solution for SFUSD is expected to save the district $3 million per year on average, based on the cost of the incumbent’s solution.

“These savings are driven by our tech-driven route optimization and operations,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Zūm has absorbed all the drivers who were previously serving SFUSD. The buses previously used were old and owned by the incumbent and have been moved out of the city. Zūm has deployed a new fleet of connected school buses and other vehicles, which will be converted to electric by 2025.”

Along with its fleet, Zūm offers school districts a cloud-based dashboard that allows them to manage operations, track movements, plan budget use and analyze performance and service data — the kind of tech that makes sense for schools to have but still seems radical given how slowly the public sector moves.

“A major challenge we experienced in the past was gaining visibility into the location of students and buses across the district,” said Orla O’Keefe, chief of policy and operations at SFUSD, in a statement. “We hope and expect that our families will benefit from Zūm’s student-centered technology. Families will be able to track their child’s bus in real time and … easily communicate with the driver regarding their child or any unique circumstances that may arise.”

Included in the contract is Zūm’s goal to help SFUSD electrify its entire fleet by 2025. Last year, the SF District Board of Education adopted a resolution to modernize its transportation in a way that would create more efficiencies, help the district meet sustainability goals and increase transparency across the system. Zūm says this contract will mark the first time SFUSD has updated its transportation solution in 40 years.

Earlier this month, Zūm announced a partnership with AutoGrid, an energy management and distribution software company, to transform the company’s fleet of electric buses in San Francisco and Oakland into one of the world’s largest virtual power plants.

“These contracts are building blocks to Zūm and AutoGrid’s vision of creating a 1 gigawatt virtual power plant in the next four years,” said a Zūm spokesperson. “Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified are the first two districts in the U.S. to commit to 100% conversion to an emission-free EV fleet. Between these two contracts, Zūm will be carrying around 60,000 kWh charge on its EV fleet battery. To put this in perspective, during a power outage this much storage energy can power around 47,000 households per hour.”

An earlier version of this article stated that Zūm would hire a mix of salaried employees and gig workers for the SFUSD contract. The company will only be hiring salaried employees, although it usually hires a mix of both. 

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