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Student transportation options

How to Evaluate Student Transportation Options

December 18, 2023

While the yellow school bus remains the primary mode of transportation for most school-aged children, small-capacity vehicles can offer a more flexible and cost-effective solution. Alternative Student Transportation can be used on an as-needed basis or it can be a valuable piece of a regular transportation program.

Districts utilize alternative vehicles for a variety of purposes, and as those needs change, the routes and utilization can change, too. Many student populations can benefit from small-capacity vehicle transportation, including:

  • Students with special needs
  • Students experiencing homelessness or those in foster care
  • Early education students
  • Medically fragile students
  • Out-of-district/rural students
  • Students attending specialty programs
  • Students participating in an extended school year

But how do you determine if it’s the right choice for you and your students? Let’s explore your options.

In-House v. Outsourcing

If you’re considering keeping your alternative transportation in-house, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How many vehicles would we need to purchase, and what kind do we need?
  • How many drivers would we need to hire?
  • Do we need to hire monitors?
  • What types of training or education do the drivers and monitors need?
  • What does the maintenance schedule look like for these vehicles?
  • What are the regulations surrounding these types of vehicles in our state, and does our county have any additional requirements we need to be aware of?
  • Do we have enough routers, mechanics, and other staff to maintain the routes?

If your district has the budget, drivers, vehicles, and other staff to maintain a consistent level of service, then an in-house option may be your best bet. You keep control of all routes, driver vetting, and vehicle maintenance. But if those questions seemed a bit overwhelming, outsourcing may be a better option.

Outsourcing has the opportunity to save the district money by cutting out the need to purchase vehicles, hire drivers, and all of that additional overhead to satisfy driver benefits and vehicle maintenance. Outsourcing is an excellent solution for districts that:

  • Need scalable or seasonal transportation as students’ needs ebb and flow
  • Have budgetary concerns with fulfilling alternative transportation in-house
  • Want to provide parents with trip transparency through technology
  • Suffer from bus driver shortages
  • Lack enough staff for routing, optimization, or dispatch

If you decide to outsource, how do you find the best transportation partner?

Evaluating Outsourcing Options

Partnering with an alternative transportation provider often starts with an RFP (request for proposals). Your district may need to create a new RFP to ensure you have all your bases covered when it comes to alternative options.

Once you’ve released your request for proposals, you’ll need to evaluate the responses. There are several factors to consider before choosing a partner.

 

Safety

Regulations for Alternative Student Transportation vary from state to state. However, at a minimum,

Drivers and monitors should be subject to the following common-sense standards:

  • Federal, state, and local background checks
  • Enrollment in a drug and alcohol consortium for pre-employment, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and random drug testing
  • County, state, and national criminal record checks
  • Driver education courses, including education on working with students with disabilities
  • National sex offender registration check
  • Proof of insurance and vehicle registration (drivers only)
  • An initial Motor Vehicle Records check, with annual follow-ups (drivers only)

Cost to the District

Pricing models vary across alternative transportation providers. Most bill per trip rather than hourly or per student. In those cases, it’s important to also require the inclusion of route optimization so the district isn’t paying for trips that could be combined. Some line items districts may see in an alternative bid include:

  • Trip fee: a base cost for the trip, usually inclusive of some miles
  • Additional miles: price per mile over the miles included in the trip fee
  • Cancellation fee: most providers will require a minimum number of hours to cancel a trip to not incur any costs (this can range from 2-24 hours)

If a student needs additional equipment, services, or accommodations, the cost will likely be accounted for per student rather than per trip (e.g., if two students are routed together and both need car seats, two equipment fees would be incurred). These solutions often call for advanced planning, scheduling, and routing on the part of the provider and might include:

  • Wheelchair accessible vehicles
  • Car seat, safety vest, or buckle guard
  • Monitors
  • Wait-time
  • Hard-to-service trips

If flexibility is important to you, ask potential Alternative Student Transportation providers if they include a contract minimum. Most do not, because it allows them to remain adaptable, responsive, and efficient for districts who would rather not pay for unused trips.

 

Experience and References

It is important to have an experienced alternative transportation vendor. You’ll want to know how many years of experience companies have directly in alternative transportation, and not just the broader world of student transportation as a whole. Further, when requesting references, we recommend the references have utilized alternative transportation services from the provider for three or more years.

Once the criteria have been selected, weigh each item to reflect its importance.

 

Additional Service Offerings

Service offerings are relatively broad and are dependent on district preference. Consider technology offerings, customer service models, and routing capabilities. Some companies also offer further routing-specific services like transportation or bell time studies. Be sure to ask about additional pricing surrounding these types of service offerings up front.

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