Every day, nearly 25 million students ride a big yellow bus to school. These iconic vehicles are so entrenched in American school culture that their likeness is the predominant symbol for education.
There’s good reason for this. Since the yellow school bus came on the scene decades ago, almost nothing has changed about the vehicles or how school systems use them to transport students.
But do school transportation systems still meet the needs of current students, families, and schools? In "Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century,” we analyze school transportation on a national scale through three lenses:
- Efficiency: Are current school transportation systems efficiently, cost-effectively, and safely serving schools’ needs?
- Education: Are those systems meeting the needs of students and families as well as supporting their ability to access schools equitably?
- Environment: Are student transportation systems minimizing their environmental impact in the communities they serve?
The image emerging from our work is grim. School districts struggle to provide efficient service in the face of escalating costs and increasingly complex education systems where more and more students attend schools outside their neighborhoods. Stagnant state funding streams force districts either to sacrifice service quality and forego system upgrades or divert funds from other purposes. Federal and state regulations concerning student safety and special student populations’ educational rights are at odds with strategies to improve efficiency. All those competing priorities must be carefully balanced.
Factors such as a shortage of qualified bus drivers and fuel market volatility further complicate these matters. Also, districts have largely failed to adopt even basic technologies to improve data collection as well as operational and cost-efficiency, much less major overhauls, such as replacing diesel with alternative fuels.