Addressing School Transportation Challenges

(August 25, 2023)

As the 2023-24 school year begins, students, parents, and school staff all understandably have many things on their minds. One thing that has become a consistent worry, especially since the pandemic, is an ongoing crisis in the school transportation system, spurred mostly from a constant shortage of school bus drivers. The Pennsylvania School Bus Association recently reported that, across the state, transportation providers are 3,500 drivers short. Allies for Children continues to address school transportation challenges, making sure that all students who need transportation are able to get to school. With a severely limited number of drivers available, how is that possible?

Just this week, many families whose children attend charter schools in Allegheny County were alerted that the shortage of drivers would impact their ability to have transportation provided by the home school district. Currently, the law requires that school districts provide transportation for all resident students who attend charter schools within the district boundaries and within ten miles beyond the district boundaries. The current struggle to recruit bus drivers, though, is making it difficult, or even impossible for some school districts to abide by this law.

Obviously, bus companies are constantly trying to recruit and train new drivers. There are things that can be done on a larger scale, though, to help relieve some of the strain that transportation companies, schools, and families are under. In June of 2022, a Joint Commission of the PA General Assembly released a report to address the overall student transportation system.. The report offered several recommendations to alleviate the effects of the shortages, a few of which include:

  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) should establish a new school-bus-specific commercial drivers license (CDL).
  • The state transportation subsidy to school districts should be reviewed and revised.
  • There should be a reduction in the current distance that public schools are required to transport students who live within district boundaries but attend non-public schools up to 10 miles outside the districts’ boundaries.

All of the report’s recommendations have been summarized here by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Allies for Children’s work has been focused on developing regional transportation routes for charter and non-public school systems. Under such a system, students living in adjacent school districts would be transported on shared bus routes, reducing the overall number of drivers needed to transport these students to charter and non-public schools. We are continuing to work on enacting a model of regional transportation routes with partners at Carnegie Mellon University and several Allegheny County School Districts.

To read our 2022 report on student transportation, “Get on the Bus!”, click here.

For information on the state of student transportation in Allegheny County, click here. Stay tuned for an updated version of this fact sheet in the near future.

Laura Condon, Allies for Children Project Coordinator