It was nearly impossible to turn on any news source in the fall of 2021 and not see a report about severe bus driver shortages. Parents and schools across the country struggled to get their kids to school. Districts reported being short dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of drivers.
Some school districts were unable to return to in-person learning simply because they were unable to provide transportation to and from school. The Massachusetts Governor called in the National Guard in an effort to solve their student transportation challenges. And to add insult to injury, this is all happening at a time when recapturing the learning loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is most critical.
This bus driver shortage crisis has been decades in the making. Low pay, challenging working conditions, and an already small pool of CDL drivers are just some of the factors contributing to the school bus driver shortage. In addition, there are a number of factors that make the school bus an inefficient option for most riders today — open enrollment, geographic diversity, changing bell times, the need for social distancing… It’s no surprise that an increasingly smaller portion of students are served by the yellow school bus.
Recognizing that transportation is one of the greatest barriers to students accessing education and related supports, many states are taking a closer look at student transportation funding and regulations. Even the U.S. Department of Transportation announced flexibility in CDL skills test requirements for states via a waiver.
Now, more than ever before, we have to rethink student transportation regulations. Districts are desperate for more flexibility in standing up transportation solutions that will meet the varied needs of their students. Parents are back to work and desperate for reliable transportation solutions. Policymakers are in need of options for helping their communities access the opportunities they deserve.
Fortunately, the playbook for accomplishing this is simple. State regulations can set important baseline standards for safety (e.g., require fingerprinting for all drivers) and provide broad flexibility to school districts to set the additional standards they want to see of providers through the contracting process.
In return for flexibility, state regulations should provide accountability mechanisms like regular reporting on safety-related issues. This way, schools and districts can have the flexibility they need to utilize student transportation services that will best meet their students’ needs. And regulators can continue to ensure safety by enabling transparency into real-time ride status and actual safety data.
HopSkipDrive is dedicated to continuing to lead the charge in providing greater transparency into safety innovations and results. We recently released our third annual Safety Report, which we hope demonstrates what safety means in small-vehicle transportation in the 21st century — and how technology and expertise can help ensure that every child has safe access to opportunity.