5 ways COVID is shaking up school transportation

Bus driver shortages are the main reason some districts said it will take up to three months to resume normal operations
By: | March 30, 2021
The four biggest pain points for school transportation staff in 2020-21 were: COVID-related issues, staffing, funding constraints and school bus use, a survey has found.The four biggest pain points for school transportation staff in 2020-21 were: COVID-related issues, staffing, funding constraints and school bus use, a survey has found.

More than 80% of superintendents and transportation directors say COVID will exacerbate bus driver shortages, a survey by a school-focused rideshare company found.

The “Report on the State of School Transportation” survey, by HopSkipDrive, covered districts large and small with various percentages of students attending school, including some that have been entirely remote.

The districts surveyed had varying rates of students who relied on school transportation pre-COVID.

The survey also examined how budgets will impact school transportation and predictions for 2021-2022.


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In the districts surveyed, smaller school systems tended to re-open sooner than did larger districts, which, of course, require more bus drivers, bus routes and more extensive planning.

Many districts grappled with bus driver shortages before COVID struck in the winter of 2020. Leaders in smaller districts were also more likely to say they could resume normal school operations more quickly.

The survey’s key transportations findings include:

  • Only 17% of respondents called bus driver shortage a non-issue
  • Bus driver shortages are the main reason some districts said it will take up to three months to resume normal operations. Hybrid learning schedules, a lack of substitute bus drivers and adjusted bell times also may affect operations.
  • The majority of respondents said general education services will remain the same as pre-COVID. More than 60% of respondents expect that general education services will neither increase nor decrease in the 2021 – 2022 school year.
  • The four biggest pain points for school transportation staff were: COVID-related issues, staffing, funding constraints and school bus use.
  • Purchasing in 2021-2022 may be delayed by budget constraints, but hiring won’t; 40% of respondents said they will postpone purchases of new vehicles but only about 5% expect to delay hiring.

Leaders in just less than half the districts surveyed said they had gone ahead with planned fleet purchases during the 2020-21 school year.


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As for 2021-2022, less than 15% expect their buses to run at full capacity, though just over 45% anticipate using the same number of buses.

Some 30% of the respondents said buses will run at 50% to 75% capacity in 2021-22.