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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

The Longer Route To School

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

More than half of pre-high school students in the United States—about 20 million children in 2016 aged 5-14—travel over 2 miles to school. At these distances, students are nearly evenly split between taking a school bus and being driven in a private vehicle. For many students, however, additional factors often make the school bus their only practical means of transportation, notably household income and vehicle ownership:

  • 20 percent of low-income families (at or below the poverty line, defined as $25,000 for a family of four) own no vehicles and the majority (70 percent) of children from these families take a school bus to school
  • On the other hand, 99 percent of non-low-income families own at least one vehicle and the majority (over 50 percent) of children from these families take a private vehicle to school

What about the 80 percent of low-income families who do own at least one vehicle? For these families, vehicle ownership does not necessarily mean vehicle availability: in contrast to their non-low-income peers, the majority of children (60 percent) from low-income, vehicle-owning households continue to take the school bus instead of a private vehicle. The importance of school buses in providing school accessibility and educational opportunity for pre-high school students therefore increases as income decreases and so does the feasibility of being personally driven to school.

Graphical Summary of Statistics​​​​​​

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. 2017 National Household Travel Survey (4/23/2019). Available at: https://nhts.ornl.gov as of August 2019.