University of Maryland researchers develop algorithm for bus route efficiency

A team at the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering has created a new tool to find the most efficient bus routes for local school districts.

Dr. Ali Haghani is leading the research, which originally came as a request from Howard County Public Schools to an undergraduate program of engineers. That team began the work, but realized it was too complex to be completed in a short-term project. They went to Dr. Haghani and his team, who have been working on the tool for nearly two and a half years.

Dr. Haghani's tool took in data provided by Howard County Schools, including the location of the schools, stops and start times, to come up with a route that would minimize the number of buses needed and the time buses are on the road without students on them.

"We sort of try to link these trips in a way that the most efficient way of routes is accomplished so that the number of buses that are used are minimum at the same time the amount of buses that go empty is also minimum," said Dr. Haghani.

The research provided by Dr. Haghani and his team has already allowed Howard County Schools to potentially cut out 20 buses from its fleet, savings approximately $1 million.

Howard County Schools used Haghani's research in part to vote for a later start time for all schools. The board decided it would push starts back between 8 and 9:25 a.m., but will decide the exact start times in the near future.

The goal is to give teens the eight hours of sleep recommended by health experts.

Since Dr. Haghani created his tool, he's now working with the Philadelphia School District and Aurora Public Schools in Colorado to optimize bus routes for them.

"It is always gratifying to see that what you have done actually has a practical impact and practical application," said Dr. Haghani.