The small amount of national data that exist in published form on school bus contracting suggest that as much as 31.8 percent of school districts contract for busing services to some degree. This statistic is from a 2001 American School & University survey of 1,000 representative conventional public school districts. An industry trade publication, School Bus Fleet, puts the figure at about 30 percent, but the magazine’s own editor qualifies the figure because of the difficulty in compiling accurate data in an industry as fragmented as school busing. Robin Leeds, an industry expert with more than 25 years of experience, explains why:
“How large a fleet constitutes a ‘company’ or a ‘contractor’? There are thousands of one-bus owners who contract with school districts to drive one route; are they included in the count? In Louisiana, for example, 35% of the fleet is privately owned, but it is primarily these independent owner-operators. One school district, Lafayette Parish, has 150 contractors. So you see the problem. Even if you limit the universe to corporations, for example, or owners of ten or more buses, there is no central repository of data beyond the 50 or 100 largest companies. It’s a guessing game.”
Leeds and others report that in Connecticut and Massachusetts more than 90 percent of pupils using school bus transportation ride on privately owned or managed buses. This figure includes private and parochial school students. These states have long traditions of private school bus operations. Michigan school districts, by contrast, maintain a very small contingent of busing contracts statewide.