5 Things You Need to Know About School Transportation

Even though school transportation receives little attention in the broader education debate, it actually plays a vitally important role in America’s school system. After all, to access the public education system, students must get to school safely and on time and be ready to learn. But providing transportation services that meet the needs of families continues to be a challenge for districts with limited time and resources. 

Yesterday, Bellwether released our newest slide deck, “The Challenges and Opportunities in School Transportation Today,” which offers a deep fact base in an area that’s ripe for improvement and innovation. Based on our research, here are five things you need to know about school transportation:

1. There are nearly 480,000 school buses in operation in the United States, making school transportation the country’s largest form of mass transit.

2. The cost of school transportation is rising. For example, the average per-pupil cost of transporting a student at public expense grew from under $600 in 1980 to nearly $1,000 in 2015. This increase in cost is due in part to the decreasing share of public school students who receive transportation services.

3. School buses transport roughly a third of children ages 5-17 to and from school each day, but the remaining majority of children travel to school in personal vehicles. Traveling in these smaller vehicles, rather than in a school bus, can pose a greater risk to students’ safety and create additional emissions that negatively affect the environment.

4. School transportation operators, including school districts that provide their own bus service as well as companies that contract with districts to provide transportation, face a number of complex challenges. In many places, few policy changes have been made to address these issues in recent decades, resulting in transportation service that is both expensive and inefficient.

5. There are four key ways to make school transportation better for families and more affordable for districts:

    • Invest in tools and technology that can help collect, analyze, and use data to improve efficiency and make informed decisions.
    • Provide adequate overall funding for school transportation services and incentivize transportation operators to provide effective and efficient service.
    • Support and prioritize capital investments like new school buses and other infrastructure that can lead to long-term cost savings.
    • Consider innovative ways to collaborate across districts or sectors to provide school transportation services.

To learn more about school transportation, check out our full slide deck. And stay tuned: On August 27, we’ll release three additional policy briefs on key issues in school transportation, including student safety, environmental impact, school integration, and school choice. You can also follow along and join the conversation on Twitter via #schooltransporttoday