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Tuesday •  September 5, 2023

A Breakdown of the HCPSS Contract with Zum Services, Inc.

By Steven Keller

The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Request for Proposal (RFP) 019.23.B3 – Student Transportation Services is a part of the official contract with Zum Services, Inc. and is a *very* interesting read.  The actual contract signed with Zum is here (and includes the details of the RFP as implicit terms of the contract).
Shown below are some of the key details from this contract. Some standout information includes:


  • HCPSS was required to present proposed routes to the Contractor (Zum) no later than 10 work days (two calendar weeks) prior to the first day of school:
“HCPSS shall present proposed routes to Contractor for review and comment as they are developed, but not later than ten (10) workdays prior to the first day of school in any year during the term of this Agreement. HCPSS reserves the right at its sole discretion to approve, or disapprove, any proposed route modification recommended and submitted by Contractor”
In their company blogZum has alleged that HCPSS delivered many paper routes to them on Saturday August 26 and Sunday August 27 — just 1-2 calendar days and zero business days before the first day of school on August 28, 2023. This will be important if HCPSS tries to claim any damages from Zum for breach of contract.
  • The contractor (Zum) was required to adhere to a minimum spare vehicle requirement of 10% of the total daily scheduled routes operated — they were supposed to have 10% *more* buses onhand than those required to service their 230 routes!
“Contractor shall adhere to a minimum spare vehicle requirement of ten (10) percent of the total daily scheduled routes operated, and shall ensure a sufficiency of spare vehicles matching the specific types operated on each route without regard to the overall requirement.”
When asked about whether it was realistic to have a zero-tolerance standard of performance for missed routes due to lack of bus drivers in the midst of a nationwide bus driver shortage, HCPSS responded:
“The HCPSS expects contractor proposals to reflect how they will ensure the required staffing is available. If the contractor considers this to be an impossibility, they should consider it in their response.”
  • Zum was required to not miss a single route due to having a shortage of drivers:
“No approved vehicle route operated by Contractor shall be missed because of Contractor’s inability to provide an adequate number of qualified vehicle drivers or monitors as defined within this Agreement. This is a zero tolerance standard of performance.”
  • Zum was required to have no more than 2% of their bus routes (less than 5 of their 230 routes) be delayed by more than 5 minutes of pickup/dropoff times:
“No more than two (2) percent of all vehicle routes operated by Contractor in each week of any service month shall be delayed for any other operational issue under the direct control of Contractor that prevents the timely operation of the vehicle routes as designed and approved. A delayed route is defined as any route component that begins operation more than five (5) minutes after its scheduled time”
  • For non-compliance to the zero tolerance requirements for missed bus routes and less than 2% tolerance for delayed routes, HCPSS is entitled to damages:
“HCPSS may assess liquidated damages in the amount of one hundred percent (100%) of the daily contract rate for each missed route instance of non-compliance”
“HCPSS may assess liquidated damages in the amount of seventy five percent (75%) of the average daily contract rate multiplied by the percentage of delayed routes for each instance of non-compliance”
  • HCPSS stated that the effects of changing school start times would merely shorten the morning and afternoon operational window (timeframe), but that it would not greatly impact individual route lengths. This was in a December 2022 RFP. This must come as a surprise to the 3500+ students who were converted from bus riders to walkers this past Spring.
  • HCPSS claims the right to modify the services provided at any point (e.g. adding routes? changing routes before school begins?), but the contract does not specify the timeframe that the contractor will have to prepare to address the change (e.g. if bus routes were significantly changed or added, the contractor might not have enough time to get new buses or hire new drivers and would ultimately wind up in breach of contract).
  • HCPSS can apparently terminate the contract for “default” — any breach of contract — or for convenience at any time.
It will be interesting to see whether HCPSS pursues damages and whether their failure to deliver routes to Zum before “zero” days before the first day of school (if true) will prevent any damages from being recovered.
For much more background on the current HCPSS transportation crisis, be sure to read last week’s HoCo Watchdogs post, “Zum”ing Off a Cliff: Howard County School Bus Debacle Exposes Deep HCPSS Leadership Issues

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