During a pilot project with GreenPower Motor Company, a Wyoming County (West Virginia) Schools student is helped aboard a Type A Nano BEAST electric school bus.  -  Photo: GreenPower Motor Company

During a pilot project with GreenPower Motor Company, a Wyoming County (West Virginia) Schools student is helped aboard a Type A Nano BEAST electric school bus.

Photo: GreenPower Motor Company

The school bus driver shortage doesn’t seem as drastic among special-needs operations in our latest special-needs transportation survey, but that certainly doesn’t mean everything’s running like a finely tuned machine.

About 60% of responding special-needs transporters told School Bus Fleet that they’d seen limited or no impact from the ongoing driver shortage in recent months, while nearly 30% still aren’t close to full staff.

What they really need, it seems: fresh blood at the wheel and more aides and substitutes to help. Oh, and school buses produced on a quicker timetable.

Special-Needs Transportation Pain Points

The 2023 survey (sponsored by AMF-Bruns of America and appearing in the February print edition of School Bus Fleet) offers some glimpses at what the front-line workers are experiencing in the field. Among the pain points described in the survey:

  • Scheduling special-needs training during the school year.
  • Hiring younger drivers.
  • Longer routes challenging students and drivers.
  • Lack of aides and substitutes.
  • Time required to certify new drivers.
  • Wait times for production of new school buses.

Meeting the Need

For more than half of the survey respondents, demand has increased for special-needs transportation services during the past year.  -  Image: Canva/SBF

For more than half of the survey respondents, demand has increased for special-needs transportation services during the past year.

Image: Canva/SBF

More than half the respondents reported that their operation’s percentage of special-needs passengers increased compared to last year, while 40% indicated the demand stayed the same. More than 7% reported a decline.

How are special-needs drivers compensated compared to general-education drivers? Nearly 90% of respondents indicated that their drivers make the same as their general-education counterparts, while 9% make more and less than 2% earn less. That’s on par with the results from 2022.

About 90% of respondents said that their buses carry an aide/attendant on board, while 10% do not.

What They’re Driving

Only about half the operations surveyed are using Type A school buses for their special-needs transportation fleets. More than 64% use Type C “conventional” buses – and 76% of respondents said that some of their special-needs students are mainstreamed on regular routes. More than 31% use vans. Of the fleets that use vans, most – as in previous years – are driving Ford Transit and Dodge Caravan vehicles.

Nearly half the respondents indicated that supply chain issues and delayed OEM lead times at least moderately affected their ability to effectively transport special-needs students, while 33% reported no problems on that front. About 10% reported it was severe or critical.

Turning to Technology?

Less than two-thirds of respondents indicated that all their vehicles are equipped with electronic systems that remind drivers to walk to the back of the bus to check for students after a run. Less than 20% reported having no such systems on board, which is up from about 14% last year.

About 82% equip their vehicles with video surveillance, which is on par with 2022.

Few operations (about 8%) indicated that they’re using electronic tracking systems such as Z Pass) for their special-needs passengers. That’s down from 10% in 2022.

Getting Outside Help

Is it getting bad enough for some to outsource their operations?

For some, yes, but 63% indicated they aren’t considering outsourcing during the next 12 months. About 15% are currently outsourcing, while 3% are thinking about making the move this year. And 12% said they might outsource, depending on what happens during the next year.

Of the operations that are outsourcing, nearly 58% are using an alternative transportation service like EverDriven or HopSkipDrive, while 38% are using a school bus contractor operation.

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