The Logistical Feat of Busing in Boston

boston school busNot to mention this added complexity. Photo by Jose Gil via

Regular readers know about my fascination with the Boston Public Schools busing/school assignment struggles. I had the pleasure of hearing about that issue from a completely different perspective on Wednesday at a Harvard Kennedy School lecture by BPS Transportation Director Carl Allen, which helped to illuminate the logistical complexity of busing students to and from school in Boston.

In simple terms, the BPS moves 32,000 school kids to 220 schools every school day. Fold in the kids who take the MBTA to school, and that’s 46,858 kids everyday taking a bus or the T.

Breaking down the numbers provides some additional insight. Of those 46,858 kids, almost 6,000 of them are charter, private, or parochial school kids who receive transportation within the city. Several thousand are kids who receive door-to-door service for SPED or medical needs.

And where do they go? To 130 public schools, 58 private special education providers, 40 private or parochial schools, and 21 charters. Going home is even more complex as some kids don’t go back to their bus stop but, instead, go to after-school care locations.

The operational structure of business is pretty complex, too. BPS owns the buses but contracts with the private entity, First Student, to manage and maintain the buses. The unionized bus drivers are employees of First Student, but they have a memo of understanding with the city that they will be retained as drivers regardless of who operates the buses. First Student has a 10-year contract that will be put out to bid next year.

All this costs money: $80+ million per year. The bulk of that money—more than $60 million—pays for the contracted bus services. But big chunks of bus spending go to things like special ed services and administrative overhead, which are unlikely to decline regardless of what reforms are enacted. Factor in grandfathering of existing students, and short-term savings will be difficult to capture.