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Detroit District Tackles Unique Transportation Challenges to Keep Students Safe & in School

When the transportation team at the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) prepared for the start of school in late August 2023, they faced similar challenges as have made headlines across the country: the persistence of driver shortages.

But even as shortages impacted the delivery of some yellow bus routes, DPSCD had a card in its back pocket: a robust small vehicle transportation program for students with complex needs, including nearly 500 unhoused students living in temporary places around the city and beyond.

At Via, we’re proud to work with DPSCD to help deliver this critical program in a district with some of the highest volumes of unhoused students in the country. We partnered with the district after they undertook a deliberate expansion of the small vehicle program to ensure that students in need — particularly students with disabilities, and those accommodated under the McKinney Vento Act — could be transported even if yellow bus resources were limited.

The district first felt the strain when COVID-19 hit in 2020 and experienced a severe reduction in driver resources. Without a large group of small vehicle vendors at the ready, DPSCD struggled to provide transportation, particularly for unhoused students, who often stay in temporary locations far from their school. Now, DPSCD’s small vehicle program has the capacity to offer safe and reliable transportation to every student in need, even as this population changes — often growing — throughout the year.

DPSCD looked for vendors who not only had experience transporting sensitive populations, but who could accommodate the flexibility required to deliver routes that change as student circumstances and schedules fluctuate. For some students, the small vehicle program is a way to get to school day-to-day; for others, it can step in to meet a specific need, like an after-school program or even prom.

Choosing the right suppliers, and growing the district’s roster of vendors, has been critical in building a strong program that delivers quality transportation throughout the year — even as the pool of eligible students is anticipated to rise.

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