Photo courtesy Zemcar

Photo courtesy Zemcar

The advent of rideshare services that transport students raises some questions but also presents some opportunities.

Many in the school bus community may be asking, “Friend or foe?” In other words, are companies like HopSkipDrive and Sheprd infringing on the domain of the yellow bus, or are they potential partners that can help the traditional pupil transportation industry in carrying out its mission?

Considering the vastly disruptive effect of Uber and Lyft on the taxi industry, it would seem natural for school bus operators to be wary of this new wave of rideshares that focus on shuttling young people. But in this case, there might be more room for a beneficial coexistence.

In our feature article on this topic, Thomas Kominsky of Student Transportation Inc. (STI) points out that a ridesharing service with small vehicles isn’t equipped to transport a high volume of pupils — which is what school buses are built to do — but it might be better suited to efficiently fulfill, for example, a homeless student’s long trip to his or her school of origin.

STI, which is the nation’s third-largest school bus contractor, made headlines in November when it took a minority stake in HopSkipDrive. This was the first high-profile connection between a yellow bus operator and a ridesharing service.

However, in the public transit world, this type of partnership has been much more prevalent. Here are two examples that SBF’s sister publication, Metro Magazine, reported on recently:

In Dublin, California, Lyft and Uber are working with the Livermore-Amador Valley Transit Authority to subsidize Lyft Line and UberPool rides within city limits. The partnership has helped increase public transit ridership while alleviating traffic and parking congestion at the city’s rail station.

In Boston, Lyft and Uber partnered with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) to provide on-demand paratransit rides. The rides are subsidized by MBTA (which pays up to $13), and the rider pays a $2 flat fare. According to an Uber official, there has been an increase in trips, and the cost per trip has been reduced “dramatically” with the on-demand service.

For the transit industry, collaborating with rideshare providers has also helped address the challenge known as “first mile, last mile” — getting people between home and the bus stop, and between the bus stop and their destination.

Could you see a similar application working to supplement your school bus service? Or could a small-capacity vehicle be used to transport, say, a special-needs student who attends a specialized program in a distant area? American Logistics Co. has been providing that type of service for years, well before the student-transporting rideshares came on the scene.

Don’t get me wrong — the school bus is statistically the safest form of pupil transportation. But it’s not the most efficient option when it comes to transporting one or two students.

In addition to their nimble, responsive service, the kid-focused rideshares offer a learning opportunity in how they cater to parents’ needs and wants. As a few examples, parents can use an app to book or cancel service, view a profile and photo of their driver, and track their kid’s ride on a map. Zemcar even offers parents the option to view real-time video of their child throughout the ride.

These rideshare companies also tout their screening and training of drivers. Notably, Sheprd follows a Massachusetts regulation known as 7D, which lays out requirements for small-capacity vehicles that transport students and a certification process for the drivers. That program could prove to be a good model for other states to follow.

While a rideshare car or crossover SUV can’t measure up to the construction standards of a school bus, there are times when it makes economic sense to use these smaller vehicles. For that reason, there should be state oversight, annual inspections, driver screening and training mandates, and other safety requirements for student-transporting rideshares — just like there are for the yellow bus.

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James Blue

James Blue

General Manager

James Blue was the general manager of METRO Magazine.

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