Much-needed transportation options could end Maryland’s school transportation crisis
Written by Trish Donahue
Maryland, like many other states, is facing a student transportation crisis. Counties across Maryland are unable to find enough school bus drivers to get kids back to school. In fact, around 300 Baltimore students were left stranded on the first day of school this year due to bus driver shortages.
This is all coming at a time when learning loss is greatest, as students return from over a year of remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Transportation is needed more than ever.
Paradoxically, districts now have access to an influx of COVID relief dollars and the federal Department of Education is encouraging use of this funding for critical services like transportation. The DOE even explicitly recognized the use of these funds on non-school bus transportation options like HopSkipDrive.
The bus driver shortage we are experiencing today has been years in the making. Historically, Maryland has only permitted transportation largely by school bus and, in more limited circumstances, by taxi.
Fortunately, the Maryland legislature recently passed House Bill 72 (HB 72), opening the door to non-school bus or taxi student transportation solutions like HopSkipDrive, giving schools much-needed options in the wake of a bus driver shortage crisis.
Following the passage of this bill, the Maryland State Department of Education (“MSDE”), in consultation with county boards of education and the Motor Vehicle Administration, drafted proposed regulations.
Unfortunately, the current version of the draft regulations backtrack the progress made with HB 72 by proposing stringent school-bus-type requirements that simply don’t make sense for small vehicle transportation.
A few examples:
- The proposed regulations would require small vehicles, like sedans or personal SUVs (which are commonly used in student transportation), to have an audible backup warning alarm installed behind the rear axle. Maybe that makes sense on a school bus, but not on a Honda Civic.
- Regulating that a school district’s name be lettered on both sides of a vehicle is great for a large yellow bus, but doesn’t correlate to a small vehicle’s safety, as verified driver recognition can be assured using designated company decals, electronically sharing driver information, and other forms of identification.
The requirements in the draft regulations would effectively preclude HopSkipDrive from helping get kids to school in Maryland, despite the fact that HopSkipDrive has gone above and beyond when it comes to ensuring safety and is already subject to stringent regulation by the Maryland Public Service Commission (“PSC”).
The PSC sets requirements relating to vehicles (including regular inspections) and drivers (including standards for criminal background checks and driving records). And, we know that there are other ways to ensure safety because we’ve done it time and time again.
Help us get the message across to the MSDE that the current regulations are prohibitive to student transportation solutions that are already regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission and which have proven safety records.
Please consider submitting a letter in support of revising the regulations so that they actually make sense for small vehicle transportation. Click here to submit.
Families and schools across Maryland are depending on it.