Students throughout New York City, especially students with disabilities, rely on a fleet of thousands of school buses to arrive safely at school in the morning and at home each evening.
But when school buses are delayed, break down, or become stuck in traffic, a host of logistical and safety concerns result.
Students miss important class time and may be delayed for extended periods while the source of the delay is resolved.
On November 21, 2022, the Oversight & Investigations and Education committees, chaired by Council Members Gale Brewer and Rita Joseph, respectively, held a joint oversight hearing to examine the many issues that affect students who rely on school bus service.
Below is video of a parent sharing their experiences and struggles with school bus delays.
In addition, the following is an update to the previous analysis of the Bus Breakdown and Delays dataset DOE publishes on the Open Data Portal, produced in conjunction with the oversight hearing.
OPT offers four student bus transportation services: 1) General Education yellow bus transportation; 2) Specialized yellow bus transportation; 3) full- and half-fare student MetroCards for use on public transportation; and 4) Pre-K and Early Intervention yellow bus.
General Education bus runs are stop-to-school, while Specialized and Pre-K/Early Intervention bus runs are curb-to-school for students where their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), respectively, mandate specialized transportation.
The principal of each school is required to assign personnel to monitor students exiting and boarding school buses and provide them with the same list of students provided to bus drivers. Students not on the list are not allowed to board the school bus.*
DOE contracts with school bus vendors to provide pupil transportation services; it does not own school buses or employ bus drivers directly.
* There are exceptions, see the committee report for more info.
- Continuing Bus Delays
- Driver Shortages
- Safety Issues on Bus Rides
- Few to No Alternatives when Busing is not Available
- Increasing Need from Students in Temporary Housing (Including Asylum Seekers)
- Bus Contracting
- Delays in Modernization (Non-Compliance with Local Laws)
- Poor Communication, Logistics, and Data Collection
Daily School Bus Delays
Every year, the beginning of the school year has consistently had not only the greatest number of school bus delays but also the longest delay times.
The start of the 2022-2023 school year had a total of 22,347 delays lasting 40 minutes on average, while the previous school year had 14,783 delays lasting 36 minutes on average. This is a 51% increase in the number of delays and an 11% increase in the minutes delayed on average.
Note: Information provided by the Department of Education (DOE) as self-reported by bus companies.
40 Minutes Delays
This October of 2022 holds the highest monthly number of delays of all time going back to the 2017-2018 school year.
In October 2022, when school buses were delayed, they were delayed for 41 minutes on average.
That means that although delay times vary, in October of 2022, students could expect to be delayed by an average of 41 minutes every time there was a school bus delay. This is an 11% increase from October 2021, where the average delay was 37 minutes.
Data for the 2019-2020 school year is incomplete due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders issued in March 2020. April, May, and June 2020 were removed.
School Bus Delay Reasons
According to school bus operators, ‘Heavy Traffic’ is the most common reason for delays and has accounted for 61% all of school bus delays in the past 4 years.
This is followed by ‘Other’ (19.5%) as the second most common reason responsible for bus delays since September 2017. ‘Other’ is selected by the reporting bus vendor when the delay cannot be classified within the available categories. ‘Mechanical Problem’, ‘Problem Run’ and ‘Flat Tire’ combined make up about 14.7% of bus delay reasons.
Reasons for Delays
61% of Delays
On average, ‘Heavy Traffic’ causes bus delays of 35 minutes, while ‘problem runs’ causes delays of 46 minutes.
As described in the data dictionary, ‘Problem Runs’ occur when some routes are late to a destination because the bus vendor believes the route has too many stops or is too long.
However, ‘Problem Runs’ as a reason shouldn’t exist because OPT is supposed to report troublesome routes and test trial runs before the beginning of the school year.
Accidents have the second-highest delay times with an average delay of 42 minutes.
Comparing Top Delay Reasons
Questions the Council has for DOE and OPT regarding delay reasons include what are they prioritizing; reducing the longest delays (i.e. ‘Problem Runs’) or reducing the overall number of delays (‘Heavy Traffic’) and how they are addressing each?
Delays caused by heavy traffic peak at the beginning of the school year, specifically in October, and this is then followed by a decreasing trend. We see slight increases in the ‘Other’ category which usually happens in May.
There was a spike in ‘Problem Run’ delay times in October 2021, the highest it has been in the past 6 years. Since then it has leveled back to the usual numbers.
Special Education Bus Delays
When comparing the average delay times, we see that special education bus delay times have consistently been longer than general education runs.
These longer delay times affect many students with disabilities and their families since they rely on school bus services as required by their IEPs.
Here are two example of families struggling to get their children to receive school bus transportation in an adequate and timely manner: Eli Goldberg parent (Riverdale) and Corrine Parent (Far Rockaway).
In response to the STOP package, DOE began the Student Transportation Modernization Plan, a phased approach that will eventually allow OPT to track every bus, every driver, and every student in real-time. The Modernization Plan may decrease delays and will mitigate their impact on families by providing up-to-the-minute information.
DOE’s legal deadline to provide real-time GPS data on students’ bus rides to parents and guardians was September 2019.
But, that mandate still has not been met.
The Student Transportation and Oversight Package requires that:
- DOE share actual school bus transportation times, as recorded by GPS trackers, with the Council twice a year as well as data on bus route times, bus delay frequency, complaints about bus routes, complaints about bus employees, and other school bus services;
- DOE distribute a school bus ridership guide in hard copy and electronically no later than 15 days before the start of each school year to all students and parents;
- DOE share with parents and post on its website how parents can file a complaint about a school bus employee, the process by which the department investigates such a complaint, and the possible results of such an investigation;
- Each bus used to transport students pursuant to a contract with the DOE be equipped with a GPS tracking device and would require authorized parents and guardians to have access to the real-time location of their child’s school bus whenever it is in use.
The data is self-reported by bus companies, bus drivers, and NYC OPT (Office for Pupil Transportation).
Rows with missing or impossible data points were removed.
School days are approximated using reported DOE school year calendars and covid months where students were remote learning have been removed. Weekend and holiday days were excluded as well.
Delay times are approximated from the given string columns with the minimum possible value of ranges used in most cases. For example, for a delay time of ‘0-15 Min’, the average of 7.5 minutes was imputed.
Total daily or monthly school bus runs, whether or not a bus was delayed or not, were not available. Instead, yearly student enrollment counts were used as a proxy. Raw monthly delay counts were divided by student enrollment counts to account for student population.
The data analysis can be found at this github page.
For feedback, comments, and questions please email DataInfo@council.nyc.gov.
Created by the NYC Council Data Team