Is Industry on Right Side of Road in Serving All School-Aged Students?

Written by Linda F. Bluth, Ed.D. O

n May 2, 2017, I attended a panel session in Washington, D.C., presented by Bellwether Ed- ucation Partners, titled “Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century,”

followed by the release of an eye-opening publication with the same title. After reading this 71-page report, written by a national nonprofit focused on “dramatically changing education and life outcomes for underserved children,” I asked myself if today’s prominent yellow school bus advocates, leaders and transportation associ- ations are asleep at the wheel when it comes to what the current role of transportation to and from school in the 21st Century needs to be, in order to meet the transporta- tion requirements of all school-aged children. I asked myself, how I can continue to support the school bus industry moving forward for all children who require transportation services? I passionately questioned my ability to change my current thinking and become unbiased, by looking outside of my com- fort-zone as a strong advocate of the yellow bus as being the single most acceptable appropriate means of trans- portation to and from school. However, I recognize that change is imminent and requires my support without compromising my commitment to safety. After reading the Bellwether report, I immediately began to question the gap between what families require for transportation services today for their children and what school districts are providing. My thinking led me to ask if the iconic “yellow school bus” merited support as the only acceptable means of school transportation. What I clearly focused on in reading this report was the

“logical inefficiencies of the yellow bus.” At first, I could not believe what I was reading: “Despite its symbolic val- ue, the yellow school bus creates significant operational and environmental inefficiencies in many districts—inef-

ficiencies that increasingly drain district budgets, hamper families’ access to high-quality schools outside their neighborhoods, and damage the environment.” After deliberating for a significant period of time, I was

far more open to accepting this statement: “While the traditional, district-operated school transportation mod- el accounts for nearly two-thirds of all school buses on the road today, many districts have turned to contract- ing with private providers or relying on public transit to meet some or all of their school transportation needs. Movement to different service models is attributable in part to the changing nature of school districts, particu- larly in urban areas. “The dominant yellow bus transportation system is

designed to serve a ‘traditional district,’ where students attend centrally located neighborhood schools. But more and more districts are offering families the option to choose from among public schools regardless of their geographic proximity to home. “For example, there are now over 6,000 charter schools

enrolling nearly 3 million students nationwide. The transportation needs of students who are now cross- ing town versus crossing the street to attend school are changing the way these districts must think about and deliver school transportation.” These statements provided a great deal of information

to digest and recognize about what is being said by individuals outside of the school bus industry, who are critically looking at transportation of school-age stu- dents in the 21st Century. I asked myself, what would be the best method for exploring alternative transportation models while not compromising safety standards? That is the primary challenge ahead for the compelling

supporters of the yellow school bus. Nobody is question- ing the proven safety record of the yellow school bus;

Is there a place to discuss this at the upcoming 17th National Congress on School Transportation?”

26 School Transportation News • OCTOBER 2019

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