Budget & Finance

School Districts Cutting Bus Routes to Save Money

By Sean Cavanagh — September 06, 2011 2 min read
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As school districts scramble to find ways to bring down costs, they’re targeting one of the services that many families count on the most: transportation, meaning the buses that get students to and from school.

In many cases school systems are being forced to reduce the number of routes they offer or trim service in other ways, resulting in longer walks for students to get to their bus stops or longer rides once they’re on board.

Reports of cutbacks to services in communities in Pittsburgh and California offer a glimpse of the changes underway. In San Diego, about 3,500 students starting school this fall will have to find another ride or switch schools because their bus routes have gone away, according to California Watch.

In some states, cuts to transportation funding have begun at the state level and trickled down. I reported on state reductions to those services in this year’s Quality Counts report, citing the case of Missouri, which at the time was cutting its transportation budget roughly in half.

The pressure on rural districts, where students have to cover much longer distances, can be especially great. Some far-flung Nevada districts I wrote about were going to four-day school weeks, partly to reduce the high costs of fuel and personnel associated with transportation.

Not all the changes to transportation are about cuts alone. Some districts have been able to drive down costs by reorganizing how they use their fleets of buses and changing how they assign drivers to routes. Such is the case in Orange County, Fla., where the district was able to reduce the number of vehicles and drivers on stand-by, cutting fuel and maintenance expenses, as I explained in a story from earlier this year.

I know that some states regulate the length of students’ bus rides and how far they’re supposed to walk to school, as a safety issue. I don’t know if states are loosening those regulations, or if districts are finding a way around them. (Any State EdWatch readers with ideas about this, let me know).

In an effort to make the best of it, some cash-challenged districts have found a creative way to make money off the buses that they’ve kept in service: by advertising on them. Buyers purchase space by the month or by the school year.

With state and local revenues not expected to rebound substantially for some time, expect districts to take similarly entrepreneurial approaches in the years ahead.

Photo of classic yellow school bus by iStockphoto.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.