Increasing Travel Training Opportunities Through Transit Collaboration

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The American Public Transportation Association can be a bad word in the vocabularies of certain pupil transporters. But the organization has the power and purse strings to foster some potentially very good things for the school transportation industry.

Of course, the National School Transportation Association is regularly in, um, negotiations with APTA members, which numbers more than 7,000 nationwide, on issues pertaining to school bus tripper service or charter rule violations. After all, APTA receives tens of billions of dollars a year from the feds to purchase vehicles and equipment. Private enterprise is justified in its objections to transit unfairly using that influence to provide school busing service, especially when school buses in general receive very limited federal funding each year.

But, collaboration does exist. Daily, thousands of school districts across the nation coordinate with the local transit authority on subsidized student fares, mostly for high school students. I was reading the Jan. 18 edition of APTA’s Passenger Transport newsletter and another opportunity came to mind when it comes to students with disabilities.

I’m not advocating school districts turning over their special needs operations to transit: what a mess that would be. And, indeed it could be illegal under IDEA. What caught my attention was an article penned by Greg Evans, vice president of Lane Transit District in Eugene, Ore., and APTA’s Region VI representative. He talks about 2010 goals for the industry, and one of them is “Increasing Demand for Specialized Services.”

What he mentions is that the nation’s population of seniors and persons with disabilities is only increasing – and so are their transportation needs. Specifically, he says:

“Transit agencies must continue to develop and implement programs to enable and encourage the usage of traditional fixed route service for customers with disabilities, where appropriate.”

The yellow school bus is perhaps the best “travel training” tool there is for helping students with disabilities grow acclimated to public transportation. One day, after their school careers conclude, many of these students, especially those with more severe mental or physical disabilities, will need to rely on public transit to get around town, run errands and generally live their lives.

Doesn’t it dictate, then, that school districts work more with local transit on programs that can better prepare students for the road that lies ahead of them? Shouldn’t it be considered, at least, that school districts – and transportation departments – might stand to benefit monetarily from any programs that these powerful transit agencies might be able to implement and receive funding for?

In the end, if it benefits the kids, wouldn’t it all be worth it?