What to Ask When Choosing an Alternative School Transportation Solution

Today “safety” has taken on a new meaning and school transportation safety standards are evolving in response to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. If you are just looking, seriously considering, or comparing alternative school transportation solutions, there are key product and service features that make all the difference.

We share the ways in which we meet these requirements. This will give you a tangible idea of how a solution might meet these challenges.

Alternative Transportation Solution Vendor Considerations

  • Does the alternative transportation solution ensure drivers have experience in childcare?
  • Does the company offer trauma-informed care training and other training resources for drivers?
  • How are they equipped for riders with special needs?
  • What safety measures are built into the product and processes?
  • Do they allow you to track the ride?
  • Can you contact a support team directly to handle an issue? Can a child’s family contact a support team directly?
  • Are they flexible enough to meet your needs? (Do they have a flexible supply of drivers? Are you charged if you don’t meet a minimum of rides?)
  • What extra fees do they charge for wait times, cancellations, etc.?
  • What COVID-19 safety measures are built into the product and processes?
  • What are the social distancing policies and protections for drivers and riders? Are they following CDC and local guidelines? How will the vendor know if drivers and riders are following policies?
  • How will vehicles be sanitized between riders? How will the vendor ensure adherence?
  • How is the company tracking/reporting COVID-19 exposure?

Now, let us go into more detail about why each of these questions is important.

Does the alternative transportation solution ensure drivers have childcare experience?

We feel childcare experience is one of the most important factors to have in a potential transportation partner. Trained caregivers will be a calm and empathetic presence for kids, and have a better sense of what is effective when approaching a child.

Riders from vulnerable populations may need a little extra care on a trip. A driver with experience in childcare will be used to providing the level of attentiveness they need.

For example, at HopSkipDrive, CareDrivers must have five years of caregiving experience to access the platforms.  Many CareDrivers are parents themselves, or have worked with kids as teachers, nannies, and classroom aides. This gives them a sense of what is most effective when working with children, enabling them to handle difficult situations with empathy and kindness.

Does the company offer trauma-informed care or other informational resources?

Many children have experienced trauma in their past. We feel it’s important to provide an experience that is safe for every child to have their needs met physically, but also emotionally.  Any partner you choose to provide transportation for vulnerable populations should be knowledgeable about trauma-informed care and its value.

Trauma-informed care advises caregivers to approach those in their care with the assumption that they are likely to have a history of trauma. It helps kids feel safe and comfortable because those with training know how to recognize and respond appropriately to trauma signs and symptoms. They also know how to not re-traumatize a child who exhibits these signs. For example, even something as simple as asking about the parents of a child in foster care can be upsetting.

Drivers should be able to explain and employ best practices for driving students from populations such as McKinney-Vento, youth in foster care, and students with special needs. They should also fully understand their role as a mandated reporter.

How is the alternative transportation solution equipped for riders with special needs?

If you are considering a partner to assist with special needs transportation, ensure they’re fully prepared to meet riders’ needs. The trip to school is an important part of the day, and an unsettling experience on the way may mean the Rider does not arrive ready to learn. This can take away valuable classroom time, which impacts the Rider and may impact other students too.

Special needs is a broad term, and the types of special needs drivers may encounter varies greatly. There are many forms — from emotional disturbances, cognitive differences and physical disabilities.

It’s important that drivers understand how important consistency is for children with special needs; consistency can be anything from being on time and driving smoothly. When choosing a partner, ensure they provide additional best practices resources about special needs riders.

For riders with physical issues, it’s also key to determine which drivers can accommodate them. We connect CareDrivers with best practices resources for working with children with special needs. Generally, students will have one to three different CareDrivers during a 90-day period, which allows them to get comfortable with a small group of trusted adults.

What safety measures are built into the product and processes?

Any children’s transportation company needs to have a very stringent set of safety procedures, for the protection of children and drivers alike. This is an important aspect to look for in any potential partner, but especially for kids who may not be able to advocate for themselves.

What are the criteria for drivers? What are their processes when choosing drivers?

Do they have safe driving tracking built into their app? Of course, you want to make sure drivers are not engaging in any of the six riskiest driving behaviors, but it’s also crucial so kids aren’t scared in the car. How do they check for device use while driving or unsafe driving behavior? Do they offer feedback to drivers to improve their driving?

How does the company ensure safe DMV records; do they continually check DMV and criminal records? And do they perform Child Abuse and Neglect checks?

Does your potential partner enable real-time ride tracking? Can you contact the company or driver directly to resolve any potential issues?

Having visibility into the route of your trip is important. Any transportation solution should be able to provide some insight into your trip’s progress, and allow you to easily reach a support team if you’re concerned.

To keep riders safe, every HopSkipDrive ride is tracked, alerting us to any anomalies like a ride going off route or taking too long, and proactively addressing the situation.  This team will immediately communicate directly with the driver and you will be looped into any situation so that you always maintain full visibility. You can also reach the driver, with phone numbers masked within the app. Administrators and parents on a child’s account can track rides in progress using the HopSkipDrive platform; they will also get alerts for each of the six stages of a ride.

Are they flexible enough to meet your needs? Do they have a dynamic supply of drivers? How quickly can they get up and running? How quickly can you build out new rides?

Transportation personnel are busy, especially if you are working with populations that change overnight. Directives and needs for these populations can change rapidly, and providing an immediate solution is key to ensuring academic progress isn’t lost.

If you are looking for a partner to provide service to foster youth, McKinney-Vento students, and students on IEPs, you need flexibility and a rapid response.

Flexibility is key to fleet optimization, because as your needs change so does the cost. And rapid response is crucial to get kids back in the classroom asap, regardless of their current situation.

What COVID-19 safety measures are built into their product and processes?

As schools reopen, COVID-19 safety and social distancing will be at the forefront of many vendor conversations. Get clear on potential or current vendors’ COVID-19 prevention standards and guidelines. What innovations have they made in their safety processes, and how are they ensuring adherence?

What COVID-19 safety features has the alternative school transportation solution built into their app?  Have they created guidelines and resources for families, schools, riders and drivers? How are they ensuring drivers are healthy enough to complete rides? What are their policies on personal protective equipment? Do they require face coverings?

What are the social distancing guidelines for riders and drivers? Are they following local and CDC guidelines?

In response to COVID-19, the CDC released specific recommendations for alternative transportation companies and rideshares. These recommendations include requiring drivers to wear face coverings, limiting contact between drivers and riders as well as contact between riders, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, and asking riders to follow CDC requirements. Ask your potential or current alternative school transportation vendor:

  • What are your current or potential vendors requiring of their drivers?
  • Will they require drivers to wear PPE?
  • How will they follow social distancing guidelines at pickup and dropoff?
  • How will they ensure guidelines are being followed?

Consistent with CDC Recommendations, CareDrivers and Riders must wear face coverings and proper personal protective equipment during rides. Both CareDrivers and Riders will have the option to refuse a ride if the other party is not wearing proper personal protective equipment.

CareDrivers are encouraged to remain in the vehicle at pickup and dropoff to help reduce contact. For situations where the Rider needs assistance, Ride Organizers are encouraged to assist the Rider to and from the vehicle, if possible. CareDrivers should roll down the window about an inch or two to provide the Rider with their first/last name and secret code word once they have reached the door of the vehicle.

How will vehicles be sanitized between riders? How will the alternative school transportation solution ensure adherence?

Per CDC recommendations, drivers should have cleaning and disinfectant spray or disposable wipes and should be cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at minimum at the beginning and end of each shift.

For our part, CareDrivers will be required to clean and disinfect their vehicle between rides, following CDC recommendations. CareDrivers will also need to affirm in-app before each ride that they have disinfected the vehicle. Caregivers will be notified when their CareDriver has sanitized their vehicle and is on their way to pick up.

Is the alternative school transportation solution providing anonymous COVID-19 exposure reporting?

Part of prevention is to ensure quick identification of people that have come into contact with a driver or rider who shows symptoms for COVID-19. This allows them and schools/districts organizing rides to take proactive health measures to prevent further spread.

Does the company provide drivers, riders, families and ride organizers with educational resources about COVID-19?

There is a lot of information out there about COVID-19 preventative measures, and it can get confusing. Does your potential or current alternative school transportation vendor offer standardized COVID-19 safety coaching for drivers? What educational resources do they connect drivers, families, riders, and ride organizers with?

HopSkipDrive believes education is the key to safety; we provide COVID-Safe Ride Standards resources for both CareDrivers, Ride Organizers and families/caregivers.

Aylin Cook is director of content for HopSkipDrive. To learn more about HopSkipDrive and get a free quote click here.