During the annual National Association of State Directors for Pupil Transportation Services Conference earlier this month, Laura Duguid, qualitative research assistant for Doyle Research Associates, Inc., shared the results of an American School Bus Council survey designed to learn parents' thoughts on their children riding school buses.
Forty-three parents participated in a three-day online community, which Duguid called an “ideal approach” as it was easy, reliable and convenient. The participants had children of various ages who rode free and paid buses from various locations. Parents of public school students made up 75 percent of the group with parents of private and charter school students rounding out the group.
Duguid said an overarching theme was that parents want their children kids to have a smooth, relaxing start and finish to their day,. They want a school bus driver who is like family, who watches for little details, and who is loyal, protective, helpful, fun, a guardian, cautious and steady. Parents said they think their kids will feel more confident and safer if they are comfortable with their bus driver.
In light of the feedback, Duguid recommended student transportation managers present at the NASPTS meeting to encourage their bus drivers to learn their student riders’ names and develop relationships with them. Parents also placed high priority on school bus drivers being skilled at driving and security techniques.
ASBC asked why parents did or did not put their children on school buses, and Duguid revealed differences in attitudes between parents of school bus riders and parents of non-riders.
When asked why they used school bus services, parents of riders indicated it was because of necessity due to scheduling conflicts, poor traffic conditions and convenience of the bus service. They also appreciated the yellow bus’ safety record, the social interaction and the real-life situational training their children got on the bus.
Parents of non-riders revealed they kept their children off school buses because they did not like getting their children up early to catch the bus or felt the long bus ride would provide opportunities for bullying or other dangers. These parents also said they generally take their children to school on the way to work or let them carpool with friends. They mentioned enjoying the time their children got to spend with them or friends during these rides. Furthermore, they expressed concern about the school bus’ safety record in light of the lack of lap-shoulder seat belts on most buses and the media’s heavy coverage of crashes.
Parents of regular school bus riders provided practical reasons for the occasional times they kept their children off school buses. They said they might do so when the child has band or sports practice and has to carry equipment that might be cumbersome on the bus, or when they were going to pick up the child from school early.
Non-rider parents, on the other hand, had emotional reasons for not letting their children ride school buses, said Duguid. They felt that they were personally protecting their children from accidents or bullies, and also mentioned wanting to spend more time with their children.
Duguid revealed that most parents surveyed felt that school buses were safe, and that the “mainstream media was the main reason” for the thinking among some non-rider parents that they were unsafe. She reviewed the safety, traffic reduction and environmentally beneficial results of putting children on school buses rather than using personal vehicles for school transportation, and urged those in the industry to share this perspective with parents.
She closed with recommendations that the school industry could implement to allay parental fears and increase school bus ridership, such as: Frequent evacuation training, implementation of lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses, school bus drivers creating more personal relationships with the students' families, consideration of hybrid or electric buses, and sharing positive stories with the media.