Schools add transit options for unique travel needs

By: | June 22, 2018

The K12 transportation landscape is getting increasingly complex, as districts wrestle with issues ranging from school choice and questions of equity to how to subsidize mass transit for urban students.

In some districts, services that employ parents as drivers have rolled in to fill the gap. In Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has proposed making year-round, public transit free for high school students. In Boston, they can buy discounted passes.

Yet public transit systems don’t always provide service where students need it. In Denver, students can apply to any school in the city, which means many don’t attend at the building in their neighborhood. The city’s transportation system mainly moves passengers to jobs downtown.

It’s not designed to take students from one neighborhood to a school in another, says Betheny Gross, research director with the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

This situation raises questions of equity, as some students may not find a ride to higher-performing schools, says Gross, an author of the report “Can Public Transportation Improve Students’ Access to Denver’s Best Schools of Choice?”

“The routes aren’t particularly useful for a lot of kids” Gross says. “It would still take a lot of time to get to quality schools.”

Care-drivers at the wheel

While the Denver district is working to open quality schools in more neighborhoods, its transportation staff will also look at adding multimodal transit alternatives that suit individual students’ needs, Gross says.

One new option comes from a company called Hop, Skip, Drive, which employs parents, teachers, nurses and others as “care-drivers.” Its drivers are vetted extensively and must have at least five years’ experience as a caregiver, says CEO Joanna McFarlan.

Hop, Skip, Drive—which expanded recently to Denver from Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area—partners with districts to provide trips for smaller groups or single students, when using a bus would be cost-inefficient.

For example, the company, which has done about 400,000 trips, has provided transportation for special ed students in Pasadena USD and has run shuttles between schools for Arcadia USD. “We take the problem that a school is having and design a solution around that” she says.