Why the change in transportation models?
Transportation is a challenge in our school district, with 246 square miles to cover and significant natural boundaries to navigate, like highways and the Rum River. In fall 2019 and again in October 2020 we conducted a survey of parents about transportation. We had been fielding regular complaints about students being on routes for up to two hours, and we had behavior issues stemming from the hub and transfer system that had been in place for years. In December 2020, our transportation director resigned. At that time, we reached out to CESO, a company that specializes in efficiency to direct more dollars to the classroom. We contracted with CESO for transportation management (replacing an administrator in the district). In doing so, we sought to decrease administrative costs and increase efficiency. CESO warned us to prepare for an impending driver shortage across the U.S.—a shortage we are experiencing today.
Our Community Task Force discussed the transportation difficulties in great depths. The task force concluded that the traditional single-tier system was not meeting the needs of our students and would be challenged even more to do so given the nation-wide driver shortage. We needed to prepare for the looming driving crisis and reduce ride times and behavior issues for students. At that time we also surveyed families about transportation. We outlined the pros and the cons of changing the hub and transfer system. We acknowledged that the prior hub and transfer system was economically efficient, but it was at the expense of children who had to ride the bus for up to four hours a day (2 hours each way). On May 21, 2021, we communicated the change in transportation — moving from a single-tier system to a two-tier system.
We had the following goals for the change:
- Shorter bus rides for students
- Students riding buses with students closer in age
- Fewer routes helps with the driver shortage
There is no perfect solution for transportation. We prioritized shorter ride-times for students; many students participate in after-school activities, athletics, jobs, and help their families at home, and we feel it was important to put the kids first. Four hours a day on a bus was unacceptable to most families.
We have a bus driver shortage throughout the state and the whole country which complicates things. Had we not shifted to a two-tier busing model, we would have started this school year with an even greater driver shortage. At present, with every single eligible driver, mechanic, and office staff member driving, we do not have any room for error. If a driver can’t make a route, we have nobody to fill in. If we had maintained a single-tier system, 10-15 routes a day would have no driver. That would represent between 800-900 students who would not have transportation to school this year under the old system. This is not an isolated problem. Driver shortages are hurting every industry that relies on transportation.