In recent months, we at SBF have come across news of school districts implementing a transit bus service program for some of their students. The reasons vary, but it has usually been due to cuts in school bus service or in an effort to save money.
Ron Kinney, state legislation monitor for the National School Transportation Association, a consultant, and former state director of school transportation for California, says he believes that when a district replaces school buses with public transit, it discredits the years of work that the school transportation community has invested in making the yellow bus the safest mode of home-to-school transportation for students.
He says he also believes that many district transportation personnel are not making the final decision to implement the transit service, and that they would prefer that students ride yellow buses.
“It goes back to competition for money — the classroom versus the school bus — and the classroom is winning out in this argument,” Kinney says.
I think that’s a fair assessment.
In Ohio, approximately 2% of the state’s upper-grade-level students who live in major urban areas ride public transit vehicles, according to former state director of pupil transportation Pete Japikse, who is set to begin a new position with the Ohio School Boards Association.
Japikse says the availability of transit routes in Ohio’s major cities at a subsidized cost is “far more practical” than for schools to operate buses for those students.
“While this is a major issue for the private contractor operations nationwide, the high level view is that some students will not make it to school without transportation,” he says. “When a school bus is not available due to economic limitations, the use of a public transit vehicle does indeed provide access to education.”
However, Japikse adds that he would prefer to see all of Ohio’s students riding school buses.
The potential for problems
Beyond the fact that transit buses don’t feature the compartmentalized design of school buses, Japikse, Kinney and Bob Riley, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, have other concerns with students riding transit buses, including the following:
Accident reporting data aren’t as specific. Kinney says that the data don’t include whether the individuals involved were children or adults — they are classified as “passengers.” “It’s not as strict, so things could be happening on transit buses that we may not even know about,” he says.
Young children are exposed to the general public. “You have no control over who rides the bus, so you could have a higher degree of crime on those buses,” Riley says.
Students may get lost. Japikse notes that transit drivers are required to operate fixed routes to comply with Federal Transit Administration standards. Riley says that as a result, you may have students dropped off blocks from school, with the potential to get lost, or older students may forgo going to school altogether by getting off at a different bus stop.
Industry-wide impact. Kinney and Riley say that transit bus service affects all aspects of the pupil transportation industry, from fewer buses being sold to job loss.
I understand the concerns, and while I don’t have a solution, perhaps furthering the discussion on the issue is one step in the right direction.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a different view on transit bus use? Send me an e-mail at [email protected].