Boston school bus

MIT team wins challenge to optimize Boston school bus routes

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won a transportation challenge sponsored by the Boston Public Schools.

The team of analytics and optimization experts developed a model that more efficiently routes school buses.

MIT’s winning team consisted of Professor Dimitris Bertsimas, co-director of the Operations Research Center, and PhD students Arthur Delarue and Sebastien Martin.  They created an algorithm that minimizes the number of bus routes by reconfiguring bus stops, maximizing the number of students riding each bus, and reducing the amount of time buses travel when no students are on board.

“This is a huge win not only for the MIT team, but also for the City of Boston and our students,” said BPS superintendent Tommy Chang in a statement. “This new model of routing buses will free up millions of dollars for reinvestment back into our schools.”  The system is expected to save $5 million a year.

Boston has one of the most expensive per-pupil school transportation systems in the country. Currently, BPS transportation staff manually build school bus routes using pupil transportation software in a process that takes several weeks to complete.  The MIT algorithm produces results in about 30 minutes, but BPS will feed the data into the existing software to test the new model.

BPS launched the transportation challenge on April 1. The challenge had two phases: (1) create a more efficient routing system and (2) develop an optimal set of starting/ending times for the district’s 125 schools.  The MIT team won both phases; each phase carried a $15,000 prize.

Photo credit: randomwire/Flickr

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