Respondents to HopSkipDrive’s 2022 State of School Transportation survey included directors of transportation, bus drivers, district superintendents, school principals and more. They shared many things about the successes — and challenges — schools and districts are facing as they work hard every day to safely get all students to and from school. 

There are a few frequently mentioned school transportation pain points, in particular, that are worth exploring in more detail. 

Pain Point #1: School Bus Driver Shortage

It will likely come as no surprise to hear that for the second year in a row, HopSkipDrive’s State of School Transportation Report revealed the ongoing school bus driver shortage as the most pressing school transportation issue. 

The bus driver shortage was named the top transportation operational concern by almost eight out of ten (77.61%) respondents to this year’s State of School Transportation survey. 

In addition, 88% of survey respondents indicated that the bus driver shortage has caused major constraints in their school and district transportation operations. And those constraints were labeled as “severe” by almost 30% of respondents.

Survey respondents also weighed in on the many contributing factors related to the bus driver shortage — and confirmed that the shortage has increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students and school transportation professionals alike are being impacted by the real-life consequences of the bus driver shortage. “Due to a lack of drivers, routes can be long with students on the bus for over an hour, and buses are overcrowded,” said one anonymous survey respondent. Transportation Coordinator Dodi Young commented on the impact of the driver shortage on school staff: “Great employees who show up daily are getting worn out from covering other routes and responsibilities.”

Paint Point #2: Ongoing COVID-19 Concerns

Historically, school bus drivers have often been retirees. Facing a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, older transportation professionals understandably have more health and safety concerns. Fear of exposure is one reason why many of them have opted to stop driving school buses. In fact, nearly 63% of survey respondents named pandemic-related issues as a major school transportation pain point. 

Said another anonymous respondent about the effects of COVID-19 on student transportation: “We are still dealing with residual effects from COVID-19 and some budgetary issues that are causing some overcrowding on buses.” 

Pain Point #3: Routing Difficulties

Routing difficulties are another common school transportation frustration, according to this year’s survey respondents. Nearly 23% of respondents indicated this issue negatively impacts transportation operations in their district. 

“As is the case with all districts,” said Transportation Director Trudy Foster, “we are faced with the daily challenge of covering all the routes.”

Unfortunately, bus routing challenges and other transportation-related issues can lead to negative outcomes for the most vulnerable students. This year’s survey, for instance, demonstrated a strong link between transportation and chronic absenteeism — especially for children who are in foster care or experiencing homelessness and students from low-income households.

“Our students with special needs have the lowest attendance as a result of transportation issues. With the school bus driver shortage, if a bus route is not running, the students do not have a way to attend school. It is so inequitable,” said one anonymous respondent.

Pain Point #4: Individualized Student Transportation Needs

Another school transportation challenge many survey respondents alluded to is the difficulty of meeting the individual transportation needs of all students. Logistics can be especially complicated when it comes to arranging transport for vulnerable student populations, such as those who have special needs, students who are homeless or in foster care or students who live in rural areas

For many of these students, access to consistent, reliable transportation can mean the difference between educational (and lifetime) success and failure. Said one survey respondent: “Students who rely on cab transportation, such as our homeless students, are frequently late or absent.” Another respondent agreed: “Students who have poor transportation access often miss chunks of instruction during their day, or can’t participate in extracurricular activities due to transportation barriers.”

Ensuring underserved students have safe, regularly scheduled transportation to and from school and extracurricular activities is one reason why more and more schools are choosing alternative transportation solutions. Just over 53% of State of School Transportation 2022 survey respondents indicated their district is utilizing alternative school transportation solutions. 

It’s clear, based on this year’s survey, that the logistics of school transportation are evolving and becoming more complicated in some ways. But it’s not all bad news for school transportation staff. Many survey respondents attributed the successes they’ve experienced to the resiliency and tenacity of transportation staff, teachers and other school and district employees.

“It has really shown us the team spirit that we have within our school district and community,” said one respondent. 

Want to learn more about what school transportation professionals had to say about the current state of school transportation today? Read the full HopSkipDrive State of School Transportation 2022 report here