Transportation operations seek stability despite the ever changing environment within which they operate. In two states, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, this cherished stability has the potential to be severely disrupted in the very near term. In both of these states, changes to long standing funding models will fundamentally alter how transportation is provided.
The proposed changes in South Carolina are epic in nature. The shift from a highly centralized funding and operations model to a decentralized, local oversight model is fraught with challenges and opportunities. The requirement to analyze the feasibility of district-provided or contracted services starting in the 2012-2013 school year is the most significant and potentially disruptive change. Establishing a future funding mechanism will be another critical challenge. Developing a strategy to address these concerns and the myriad of other potential issues will be absolutely necessary for this transition to have any chance to succeed.
Despite these challenges, there are also opportunities in this potential change. School bus contractors will obviously have new chances to compete for additional services. Requirements to reduce the age of the fleet overtime will present school bus dealers with no shortage of opportunities. For school districts that retain their own operations, they will have an ability to better customize their individual needs. The historic nature of these potential changes will be one of the most interesting student transportation stories in the nation.
The proposed changes in Pennsylvania are comparatively more modest but no less disruptive. Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget includes a provision that would combine the current line items designating transportation funding into a block grant, the rationale being that block grants provide local managers with more discretion on how to use funds.
Given the peculiarities of the current funding formula, this change could alter the current mix of contracted and district owned operations and will undoubtedly change the way districts evaluate transportation costs. It is highly likely that as it becomes more difficult to assess the "net cost" of transportation (represented by expenditures minus state funding received) transportation managers will be under increased pressure to increase efficiency and control or reduce costs.
Transportation operations have enough moving parts to keep even a better than average manager on their toes. Fundamental changes like those proposed in South Carolina and Pennsylvania help to remind us that no matter how hard we try there are always external factors that will influence how we provide service. Keeping an eye out for changes both large and small will ensure that your operation can adapt quickly and maintain some degree of that ever elusive stability.