Opportunity for all: The link between transportation and student success

transportation and student successEvery parent wants success for their children — it’s one of life’s greatest rewards. School, along with related support services and extracurricular activities, serve as opportunities early in a child’s life to develop essential skills, cultivate a love for learning, and foster social connections that can set them up for success.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers that can get in the way, and school doesn’t always provide the level playing field needed to ensure equal opportunities. From socioeconomic disparities to housing instability, students don’t always have access to the same educational resources and pathways. 

HopSkipDrive is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and families. We do so by offering transportation solutions that put safety, equity, and care at the center —  which, in turn, expands opportunity for all.

Having a trustworthy, dependable way to get to and from school is key to promoting equitable education for students from all backgrounds. Let’s explore the crucial role transportation plays in building the foundation for student success by ensuring equal opportunity for all children in their educational journeys.

Enabling opportunity for all students through mobility

Equitable access to education remains a challenge in the U.S., and this challenge is significantly impacted by one issue in particular that is rarely discussed: transportation.

Transportation is an important part of bridging the gap toward achieving educational inclusion — a gap that requires closing early on. Prioritizing accessible transportation options for all students is essential in creating a truly inclusive educational system. Accessible transit ensures every child can get to and from school regardless of their family’s income or their living situation.

Further complicating the educational landscape for students today is the national bus driver shortage. Ninety-two percent of respondents to HopSkipDrive’s 2023 State of School Transportation Report indicated their school transportation operations have been constrained by the driver shortage, posing a significant hurdle to providing reliable transportation for students. The bus driver shortage is not only disrupting daily routines but it is also exacerbating existing inequalities in accessing education.

With a lack of qualified drivers, schools are struggling to maintain consistent and timely bus services, impacting students’ ability to attend school regularly. In fact, 67% of survey respondents reported that chronic absenteeism is an issue in their classrooms, and 52% noted a link between access to transportation and educational equity.

“Students from target populations (foster youth, homeless, low-income, etc.) are disproportionately impacted by transportation barriers,” said one McKinney-Vento liaison who participated in HopSkipDrive’s 2023 State of School Transportation survey. “If you look at the intersection of these groups and race and income status, it is even more glaring.”

As we work towards creating a truly inclusive educational system, it's crucial to address these contemporary challenges alongside broader issues of access. By recognizing and actively mitigating the impact of the bus driver shortage and chronic absenteeism, we can move closer to a future where every student has equal opportunities to thrive in their educational journey.

Transportation disparities widen the divide among students

While many transportation options exist, most students are driven in a private vehicle or take the bus to school. Research shows that in 2017, 54.2% of students were driven to school in private vehicles, while 33.2% took the bus. This increasing reliance on private transportation is a major roadblock for students without access to a car. 

The vast majority — around 99% — of non-low-income families own at least one vehicle, with many driving their children to school. But where does this leave the 20% of low-income families that don’t have access to a private vehicle to transport their children? About 60% rely on the school bus system. This reliance can, and often does, pose a challenge for youth attending school districts that are experiencing budget cuts and grappling with driver shortages, resulting in fewer routes. It’s also challenge for students who may have specialized needs that can’t be met by a fixed-route school bus. When a bus isn’t the right fit and a student’s family can’t drive them to school, the options are even more limited.

Another report by Urban Institute underscores how students who rely on public transportation are at a disadvantage compared to their peers who have access to private transportation. The report found that access to a car increased school availability for families, allowing them greater flexibility in choosing educational environments beyond the constraints of public transportation schedules and routes.

These inequalities also extend to youth with special needs and students with individual education plans (IEPs). One recent review pointed out that these students may not be able to use traditional buses due to limited access and seating. The benefits of inclusion when integrating youth with special needs into an environment alongside their neurotypical peers — whether it be on a school bus, in a classroom, or elsewhere — can be profound. 

Research shows that students with special needs learn essential academic and social skills from their neurotypical peers and vice versa. Students without special needs are taught the importance of individuality, acceptance, and empathy. Without reliable transportation, these inequalities continue, further limiting the educational opportunities and social interactions for students with special needs.

Lack of transportation options can affect education and health outcomes

With fewer reliable transportation options, many students face long commute times that can affect their sleep quality, overall health, and academic performance. Although the average commute time for a high school student is about 18 minutes, some students travel more than an hour. This extended commute not only adds stress but also limits the time available for extracurricular activities, social connections, and quality rest, impacting students’ holistic well-being.

More studies reveal how lengthy commute times lead to poorer health and wellness outcomes for these students. The data on the link between commute times and student success is eye-opening:

  • A study reported by Bloomberg found that even a one-minute increase in commute times can reduce sleep by 1.3 minutes, meaning a student with a commute 20 minutes longer than another would get about 26 minutes less sleep per day.
  • The same study also found that students with longer commutes weren’t able to exercise as often as their peers who have shorter commutes, contributing to decreased physical activity levels and potentially affecting overall health.

Based on these reports, it’s clear that transportation plays a pivotal role in shaping students’ academic, social, and emotional success, as well as their physical and mental well-being. Recognizing the significant impact of reliable transportation on students' development underscores the urgency for solutions that address commute times and other, broader challenges hindering educational and health outcomes.

Bridging the transportation gap for students

The traditional school bus system simply isn’t flexible enough to accommodate every student’s diverse needs. Innovative solutions designed for non-routine school transportation are essential to provide personalized, efficient alternatives for all.

As a supplemental transportation solution that works alongside the yellow bus, HopSkipDrive works with schools, government agencies, and nonprofits to modernize the journey to and from school, extracurriculars, support services, and more by arranging flexible options that stretch beyond the system’s current limitations.

As one part of a multi-modal transportation landscape, HopSkipDrive supports:

  • Students with special needs and/or IEPs
  • Youth experiencing homelessness eligible for McKinney-Vento services
  • Nonprofits working with youth
  • Small group activities, including field trips
  • Students in continuing technical education programs (CTEs)
  • Students in internships and work-study programs
  • Youth in foster care

HopSkipDrive empowers students and their families to navigate the path to success by providing a secure, efficient, and dependable transportation solution that removes barriers to education — and opens doors to a brighter future.

Interested in learning more about how HopSkipDrive is helping to set students up on the path to success?


Interested in learning more about HopSkipDrive’s non-routine student transportation solution?

Get A Quote