Student Transit Programs and Other Modes-to-School in California

Is transit a solution for California public school students’ access to education? This research proposal aims to determine where this may be happening now based on the most-recent available data and where there might be opportunities for transit to play an important role in school transportation to occur going forward. There is a dearth of research in school transportation generally, and especially little is known about the role of transit therein. This project combines a literature review, the construction of a list of current practices, and an empirical analysis of recent travel behaviors among California students, which combine to illustrate the landscape of transit’s present and potential as a form of school transportation in California. In doing so, it answers the identified California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Research Priority for student transportation by both analyzing transit’s benefit for children as a form of travel to/from school and by highlighting and/or identifying existing practices in student transit programs that can help inform California’s transit agencies future planning. Half a century ago, most children in the United States walked or biked to and from school, but today the majority of children are driven by their parents/guardians or drive themselves. Despite these shifts in travel behavior, the school bus still plays an important role in travel to and from schools outside California, with nearly four in ten students relying on that service provided by their school districts to attend school each day (National Household Travel Survey, 2017). However, the contours of student travel in California paint a different picture. Here, fewer than one in ten students ride the school bus, which creates a gap of both social and environmental importance (National Household Travel Survey, 2017). Children, by nature of their ages, are unable to drive themselves until they have nearly completed elementary and secondary education. This poses challenges for families who are unable to drive their children to and from school due to financial or schedule constraints. Further, there are environmental consequences of added private vehicles for school trips, including increased congestion during the morning peak travel period and raised levels of vehicle pollution, both of which in turn negatively affect students walking and biking to school. The research team hypothesizes that these consequences are all especially acute for minority and disadvantaged populations. Public transit may offer a solution. Many school districts turn to public transit agencies to provide rides to school, either through discounted fares or fare-free partnerships. However, transit access is not created equal in California, and yet all students regardless of income or ability must attend school. The project aims to achieve four goals. First, the team will synthesize the current literature on student use of public transit for travel to and from K-12 schools and explain through the final report its applications for California particularly. Second, the team will create a list of transportation offerings from transit agencies and school districts for a large sample of California. Third, the team will provide an overview of student travel behaviors to and from school in California, with a particular emphasis on differences in race/ethnicity, household income, urban/suburban/rural geography, and transit pass/school bus offerings. And fourth, the team will use this information to provide specific suggestions for how transit agencies can best serve present and future K-12 students’ mobility and access needs amid systemwide obligations. All information will be compiled into a final report and sent via email to Pacific Southwest Region (PSR) and Caltrans. Upon conclusion of the project, the investigators will also present findings to Caltrans and at other prominent conferences such as the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $79921
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    METRANS Transportation Consortium

    University of Southern California
    Los Angeles, CA  United States 
  • Project Managers:

    Hong, Jennifer

    Bruner, Britain

  • Principal Investigators:

    Blumenberg, Evelyn

  • Start Date: 20230601
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20240531
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01899791
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center
  • Contract Numbers: 65A0674
  • Files: UTC, RIP
  • Created Date: Nov 17 2023 11:13PM