School buses: A massive mass transit system in need of a tech upgrade - Curbed

It could be considered the largest transportation system in the country, moving more than 25 million passengers every weekday. Count every single vehicle used in every mass transit system in the United States, then multiply that figure by two, and that’s the rough number of vehicles in this massive fleet, which serves every corner of every state. Then consider that the vast majority of vehicles in this system haven’t seen significant updates in decades, despite rapid advances in transportation technology.

This, in a nutshell, describes the scale—and oversized opportunity for change—found within our school bus system. The estimated half million yellow buses that circle our cities, neighborhoods, and towns perform a vital service. Even urban school systems such as the New York Department of Education, where older students rely on mass transit, have a fleet of buses for younger students and those in farther-flung parts of the city.

But according to a new report, Miles to Go: Bringing School Transportation into the 21st Century, school transportation has been held back. By not embracing technology, due in large part to inertia and lack of funds, this massive part of our national transportation system has missed out on 21st-century advances that could save money, increase student safety, and even cut down carbon emissions.

“The educational system frequently describes transportation as a plumbing issue,” says Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, a principal at Bellwether Education Partners, which compiled the report. “It’s something that nobody notices unless it’s not working.”

Certainly the 55 percent of the nation’s K through 12 population, spread across the nation’s roughly 13,000 districts, would notice a difference. Many school buses on the road today predate 2007—before stricter emissions standards went into effect—only a third of school districts track their vehicles using GPS, and only 6 percent of buses nationwide run on alternative fuels instead of diesel. In an era of Teslas and Uber, school bus tech has barely budged forward.

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