Electric Bus in front of VT StatehouseFuture of Rural Transit – Former Network Action Team

Goal:  Prepare Vermont to have the most efficient, equitable, and cost-effective rural transportation system in the US by combining public, Medicaid, and school transportation into a single electrified public transportation system.  


The Future of Rural Transit project collaborated from 2020-2023 to build relationships between transit agencies and school districts in Vermont to enhance student transportation and equity. They found that right now, and with modest effort, public transit can improve access and equity for students by filling gaps in existing school bus service. With increased coordination between schools and transit, there will be future opportunities to combine some school bus and public transit routes to further expand access as well as reduce community costs and emissions.

Access an interactive version of this map of all transit routes in Vermont and schools that are within 3 miles of a route here

In much of the US, schools operate student-dedicated transit, transporting 26 million students on over 480,000 yellow school buses every year. This makes the national school bus fleet the largest US transit fleet at 2.5 times the size of all other transit vehicle fleets combined. In Vermont, school transportation is a funding and management burden for communities. At the same time, there is existing public transportation service in many parts of Vermont that can be strengthened with greater ridership and community support. What if we transform that burden for the schools into additional ridership and support for public transit? Some Vermont communities have already chosen this path. Students in Burlington as well as some rural schools, such as Sharon Academy, across the state take the town bus to go to school. Communities adopting this path often have concerns about safety and student accommodation however in the words of a Burlington student “I never felt unsafe on the public bus. We were allowed to take on large bags of skis, instruments. Overall, it worked out well. On the Morning neighborhood special, you would get to know your driver.”

This project has worked with a range of education, transit, planning, and community stakeholders to identify the benefits of leveraging public transit service to enhance school transportation. This includes researching existing models in which school districts use transit to safely transport students, partnering with two school districts to explore the opportunity to collaborate with transit providers, and mapping existing transit routes their proximity to schools.



✓ Ensure all students can access educational and extracurricular opportunities, even if school transportation is not offered or they don’t have access to a personal vehicle.
✓ Reduce the need for students and parents to drive by offering more flexible schedules for sports and other extracurricular activities.
✓ Diversify transit ridership by including students, which will expand transit system use outside of traditional rider demographics.


✓ Reduce transportation related greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled in private vehicles and increasing ridership on buses.
✓ Provide schedule flexibility for students to stay late or arrive early without an automobile trip.
✓ Educate students on public transportation use, fostering life-long emissions reductions.


✓ Reduce cost and logistical burden on schools while increasing ridership levels and consistency for local transit agencies.
✓ Help Vermont families save money by providing an alternative to private transportation for extracurricular activities.
✓ Increased access to internship and job opportunities in the surrounding community.



  1. . Compare neighborhoods and school locations to existing transit routes to determine if these routes could serve students and school staff. Ideally, the route should require no more than minor deviations to be suitable for student transportation.
  2. Collaborate with school district staff and transit staff to explore whether routes could be supported. Foster a working relationship between all parties.
  3. Build community and school district support for the concept to demonstrate buy-in for the transit provider.
  4. Seek formal transit agency support for any route modifications or schedule changes.
  5. Work with school districts to promote the enhanced service and set expectations among students, parents, and staff. Keep track of feedback about what works and what needs to be adjusted.
  6. Once enhanced service demonstrates the benefits of students using transit, engage with stakeholders to explore transitioning some school transportation routes to use public transit exclusively.

STUDENTS ON RURAL TRANSITFrequently Asked Questions 

What is Combined Service?

Any planned coordination between schools and public transit agencies. Under a combined service model, public transit buses would provide school transportation, helping students get to and from school and after school activities. Many existing bus routes can serve schools with minor modifications. 

Combined service can look like: 

  • Shifting fixed route transit service to serve nearby schools to provide transportation to students and staff.  
  • Using transit service fill in gaps in school transportation (e.g., for after school activities) 
  • Serving students that aren’t currently served by school transportation services, particularly in sending towns.  
  • Replacing existing parts of school bus routes with new or modified transit routes. 

Combined service presents a long-term opportunity to reduce and eliminate school transportation where routes can be served by public transit. 

Is it safe for students to ride the public bus?

Yes! Communities within Vermont and beyond have implemented combined service models. Students report feeling safe on transit buses and getting to know their drivers. Bus access provides students with independence and transportation options to participate in after school activities and reach employment and work-based learning opportunities. A major way of gaining independence is freedom of movement. Having control over one’s own transportation teaches time management, communication, socialization, and accountability. 

Where is this happening?

Combined service has successfully been implemented in Burlington for years, saving the school district time and money. In more rural areas of the state, Tri Valley Transit provides service to schools in Middlebury, Sharon, Randloph, and White River Junction.  In Montpelier, students can use GMT’s MyRide service to get to and from school.

There are other examples of Combined Service in rural areas of California, Montana, North Carolina, and Michigan, where school bus use has been dramatically reduced or eliminated. 

Why would students ride a transit bus instead of a school bus?

Transit routes have more flexibility than school bus routes in where they go and when they operate. Transit routes can operate multiple buses in the afternoon, allowing students to participate in a variety of after school activities, and take you to more places than just home- to employment, activities, a tech center, or work-based learning opportunity.  

Who should I talk to if I want to bring Combined Service to my school?

Each school and school district is different, but good places to start are: 

  • The principal 
  • The transportation manager at the school district 
  • Local transit agency 

You can also visit the Future of Rural Transit online for more resources. 

To discuss your local situation feel free to contact Mariah Keagy with the Vermont Environmental Education Program at mariah.keagy@veep.org or Peggy O’Neill-Vivanco with the Vermont Clean Cities Coalition at peggy.oneill-vivanco@uvm.edu. 

What are the benefits of combined service to my transit agency?

Combined service can increase ridership, diversify funding streams if school districts chip in, strengthen community support for transit, and normalize transit ridership among students, making them more likely to become lifelong transit riders. 

Benefits include: 

  • Increased ridership (students and school staff)  
  • Provides transit literacy for future transit riders  
  • Additional farebox revenue from a more diverse source of income.  
  • Community support for transit service  

How does it work for transit agencies?

In Burlington, Green Mountain Transit provides school transportation for middle and high school students. The school district pays GMT for the service. The school routes, called ‘Neighborhood Specials’ have the highest ridership of any routes that GMT operates. Similarly, in Central Vermont, Tri Valley Transit provides service to Sharon Academy, helping transit-dependent students and staff get to school.  

Many schools and technical centers can be served by existing routes with only small modifications. Check out our online map of existing routes and school locations to see what’s possible in your territory: https://arcg.is/1azTCf0  

How would a transit agency get started on providing this service?

  1. Visit the Future of Rural Transit Resource page to explore existing resources. 
  2. Reach out to your local school district: Do you have school partners and need?  Is there a pain point around transportation? Areas that are hard to serve?   
  3. Do you have schools near existing routes? Routes that cover residential areas? Check out this online map. 

      Why should we consider combined service in my school district?

      School transportation is a burden for schools both for funding and time. What if we could transform that burden for the schools into additional ridership and support for public transit? We can do that here in Vermont with combined bus services, augmenting existing school transportation with enhanced public transportation. In much of the world, students are independent and use public transportation to get themselves to and from school. 

      Combined service 

      • Reduces financial and logistical burden on schools while increasing ridership for local transit agencies. 
      • Educates students and familiarizes them with public transportation, opening economic and learning opportunities as well as reducing environmental impact. 
      • Diversifies transit ridership by including students. 
      • Can increase access to work-based learning opportunities. 
      • Reduces the need for students and parents to drive by offering more flexible schedules for sports and other extracurricular activities. Over time, shifting school culture to be less car-dependent frees up additional space on school grounds to be something other than parking. 

      How could we implement combined service here?

      1. Bring stakeholders together: 
        • Local transit agency 
        • School district staff 
        • Members of the school community (parents, teachers, staff, students, school board) 
        • Representatives from local tech centers and dual enrollment institutions (e.g., Vermont Technical College, Community College of Vermont) 
      2. Analyze the relationship between existing transit routes and schools (visit this map as a starting point). Identify any opportunities that could result in uncomplicated deployment. Keep it simple at first but make sure that the level of service is sufficient. 


      Network members and partners who guided this effort

      VEIC – VT Clean Cities Coalition – Vermont Energy Education Program (VEEP) – Green Mountain Transit (GMT) – VTrans

      Plus Advisors from: AARP – Vermont Center for Independent Living – VT Superintendents Association – Green Mountain Power – Vital Communities – Regional Planning Commissions – School Superintendents and leadership – and others.

      Note: Network Action Team projects were selected by the Network membership through a competitive process at the EAN annual summit.  Although Network members may support specific policy actions as part of their work on these Action Teams, EAN staff serve in the role of neutral convener and refrain from advocating for specific policies.

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