- File photo courtesy John Horton

File photo courtesy John Horton

As we wrap up this very eventful and challenging year, School Bus Fleet reached out to a handful of pupil transportation leaders for their perspective on what 2021 has in store for the industry. They anticipate more virtual interaction, drivers continuing to keep even cleaner buses, and staff applying their well-honed problem-solving skills.

 - Photo courtesy John Hennessey

Photo courtesy John Hennessey

John Hennessey, director of transportation for Worcester (Mass.) Public Schools

“While 2021 brings the hope that was missing for so long with the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccination beginning to be administered, I expect that student transportation will continue on its current path for most or all of the remainder of this school year. 

Despite the development of vaccines in record time, the reality remains that it will take a while for distribution and scheduling of the multiple doses required for each recipient, and the vaccine's effect to be realized in great enough numbers to restore full confidence in a return to pre-COVID life for many. 

As problem solvers, transportation directors will continue to accept the challenge to resolve issues that are unique to their city, town, or county to serve the needs of their students and ensure that school transportation remains the safest means of travel for those students.”

 - Photo courtesy Doris Bean

Photo courtesy Doris Bean

Doris Bean, manager of transportation for Glendale (Ariz.) Elementary School District #40

“Now that the new COVID vaccines are rolling out to health workers and will reach the arms of the rest of us by spring. I am hopeful that schools will be back to in-person learning toward the end of February. Of course, this depends on our COVID numbers.

I am very excited to return to normal, and [get] our fleet back to routes with those smiling faces. It will be like a wonderful spring surprise with lighter loads for students and drivers. Our buses are squeaky clean and shiny and have perfect inspections ready for all the students to return in 2021.”

 - Photo courtesy Susan Clarke

Photo courtesy Susan Clarke

Teena Mitchell, special needs transportation coordinator for Greenville (S.C.) County Schools

“Unfortunately, 2020 came with great challenges in transportation. I think it would be too optimistic to say that we will return to some semblance of normalcy in 2021, partly because I think we all have embraced a new level of normal. I don’t see us going back to the old way of doing things before COVID. 

However, I do see us being better prepared in 2021 for the challenges. I think we are all more well-versed in technologies, due to the necessity of participating in virtual programs. We are Zooming, using webinars, and conducting a large portion of our training online. I see more effort being put into developing virtual technology than ever before. 

I am extremely excited about the NAPT ACTS [streaming service], which will be available in January 2021. In an era where we are starved for human interaction and feel that we are having to shoulder the demands alone, it will provide opportunities to connect with the many individuals that contribute to the transportation of our children.”

 - Photo courtesy Everman Independent School District

Photo courtesy Everman Independent School District

Jason Gillis, transportation director for Everman (Texas) Independent School District

“Pupil transportation is going to look very good for the upcoming year. With the smaller number of students on the buses due to the pandemic, drivers have really taken the opportunity to get to know all their kids and build relationships. Drivers are also internalizing how important it is to keep a clean bus, due to safety reasons and [because] it helps with the respect from the students.

I am hoping to talk with more directors and school leaders to get them involved with the decision[making] on bringing in more electric buses. They are safer, cleaner, and with help from available grants, they are a great way to save money for the district.”

 - Photo courtesy Derek Graham

Photo courtesy Derek Graham

Derek Graham, consultant and former state director of pupil transportation in North Carolina

“One of the great things about this industry is the feeling of family throughout, [from] school districts to contractors to vendors to associations.

I look forward to the return of in-person events at some point, but we can continue to benefit from the pandemic way of doing things. Zoom and similar platforms have connected folks that never would have interacted before.

In many ways, the community of collaboration and working to solve common problems has gotten much, much larger. It is likely that in 2021 we will start blending the 2020 approach with the pre-2020 way of doing things. Whatever evolves, the great thing about this industry is that we will do it together and support each other in the process.”

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