Beyond the Yellow Bus: Promising Practices for Maximizing Access toOpportunitythrough Innovations in Student Transportation

In “Beyond the Yellow Bus: Promising Practices for Maximizing Access to Opportunity Through Innovations in Student Transportation,” the Center for Cities and Schools at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that access to safe, affordable, and convenient transportation shapes the ‘geography of opportunity’ for many children and youth. It impacts their decisions on which schools to consider attending, which extracurricular activities they can join, and what internships or work-based learning opportunities they might take advantage of. For children and youth in isolated, disadvantaged communities, this ‘opportunity gap’ is even more pronounced – and it is mirrored in the pernicious and deeply entrenched achievement gap.

The publicly funded yellow school bus has been the long-standing pillar of student transportation service across the country (more than 25 million children ride one each day). However, the continued operation of yellow bus service is threatened by a host of challenges, including school consolidations  and school choice programs, making routing complex and expensive. As a result, many school districts are privatizing bus service, reducing it, or discontinuing it altogether.

Localities across the country are implementing new and innovative alternative approaches to student transportation that expand regional transportation access for K-12 students, improve cost-effectiveness, and leverage inter-agency partnerships beyond the traditional yellow school bus. The Center found four main areas of innovation:

  • Subsidized youth passes for public transit
  • Tools to facilitate easier  use of student transit
  • Supportive transport programs to increase school attendance
  • Programs that reduce student transport costs and environmental impacts

Transportation plays a key role in the contemporary context of educational choice and opportunity. Public transportation can – and should – be an important part of the mix of student transportation options. The Center’s cases show that carefully structured partnerships can be compatible with federal Tripper Rules, which protect private student transportation operators from competition from school districts working with public transportation providers. When adequate transportation is not available, either families bear undue financial burdens, students suffer intolerable safety risks, and/or children effectively lose the ability to make the choice for where to attend school.

Both an executive summary and the full report are available online.