National Survey Shares Challenges of School Bus Safety
published on November 08, 2019 by Sonia Mastros
One difficulty when talking about school transportation management, and school bus safety, is getting a handle on the big picture. Discussions of district transportation systems are often filled with anecdotal evidence, relatively few studies trying to look at the situation on a nationwide basis. That's why it was so refreshing to see the recent study conducted by Transportation Services Co. (TSC).
The study was distributed to over 1,600 districts around the country, and over 300 were returned - a very high sample size, for a voluntary survey like this. However, that allowed TSC to construct a detailed picture of the challenges facing school bus safety programs.
Here are some of the more interesting findings.
Transportation managers are deeply concerned about the age of their fleets.
One near-universal area of agreement was that maintaining a modern bus fleet was of paramount importance. Ninety-eight percent of respondents felt that keeping an up-to-date fleet was either "Important" or "Essential."
Likewise, that was the #1 priority for those who responded to the survey. "Acquiring newer buses" was actually the top-ranking goal, beating out even reducing fleet costs. That would suggest a lot of districts with aging fleets. The numbers in the study back that up as well. More than 1/4 of respondents indicated that their bus fleets were between 11-19 years old.
This is critical because aging buses are not merely an issue due to new safety features. Buses that old start to become money holes, requiring large amounts of maintenance while becoming steadily less reliable.
The problem, as usual, is money.
So why aren't transportation managers modernizing their fleet? Lack of capital. Seventy-one percent said budgetary restrictions were the #1 barrier to upgrades, along with 10% citing lack of purchasing power, and 8% saying a lack of financing options. So one way or another, 89% of the respondents would upgrade, if only they had the financial resources to do so.
Schools are always tight on money, but there are few more important investments for a school than their bus transportation system. Buses need to be modernized so that they can continue to provide safe, reliable transportation for students. Also, a modernized fleet can ultimately lead to significant cost savings. Modern buses have better gas mileage, or can even be outfitted to run on more affordable fuels such as natural gas.
Is Your District Having Difficulties Finding Upgrade Funds?
If the response to TSC's survey is genuinely representative, then it begins to look like there is a brewing crisis - an aging fleet of buses compromising school bus safety, while districts lack any effective resources to change the situation.
Does this sound like your district? If so, what options have you been exploring? Let's talk about it in the comments!