Rethinking the Driver Shortage

Led by NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin, the NAPT Collaborative will attempt to tackle toughest problems in transportation.

For years, transportation directors around the country have felt the pain of the driver shortage — the logistical conundrum that forces even the savviest of routing specialists to scratch their head and wonder, how are we going to make it work this year?

Coupled with a changing educational landscape where more students than ever are enrolling in distance-learning programs and a growing population of students experiencing homelessness, the driver shortage has been amplified to the point of being a crisis in many places.

Enter the NAPT Collaborative, a partnership between NAPT and Center for Effective School Operations (CESO) that leverages national reach and political gravitas with next-level logistics and operations expertise to bring solutions to life.

Attacking the problem

Lance Libengood, President of the Minneapolis-based CESO and Director of Operations for the NAPT Collaborative, understands firsthand the problems that a driver shortage can cause. For nine years, he served in school transportation leadership before devoting his time and energy to helping solve the logistical challenges he faced every day on the district side. 

“At CESO, we have an insider perspective on what happens in school transportation departments — limited resources, inadequate solutions, outside factors. At times it can feel like we will never reach the standard that we want for our transportation program.”

Over the years, Libengood and the CESO team have worked side-by-side with the largest districts in the Twin Cities metro area to bring a refreshing new era of routing efficiency and vehicle resource management to a host of grateful districts.

“We’re excited to help school districts across the country rethink what’s possible, whether by reimagining out-of-district transportation, optimizing route-building, considering alternative transportation solutions, and beyond,” he said. “Our consultants come in with a plan to address immediate problems, like a lack of drivers, and then work with leaders to make tangible progress over time.”

Why move toward the NAPT Collaborative model? Libengood explains.

“With the NAPT Collaborative, we have a unique opportunity to replicate what’s worked in a major metropolitan setting and move toward the universal goal of getting kids to school in the safest, smartest and most sustainable ways. And we have teams in place to do it right now.”

The spark

The idea for the Collaborative came when NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin met Luke Frederick, VP of Business Development at CESO, in 2019. A shared affinity for futurism and strategic partnership set in motion a series of meetings that resulted in collaboration.

“The first time I met Luke it was like we’d known each other for years,” Martin said. “The brainstorming started immediately and it has been centered since then on finding ways to help people, solve problems, and share big ideas.”

The initiative has already attracted attention from a variety of experts in business, law, government, science, technology, health care and education, a group that Martin has turned into a Board of Strategic Advisors that will help the NAPT Collaborative identify, analyze, research, and ultimately propose solutions to some of the biggest and toughest challenges in school transportation. 

“In the last 30 years, I’ve met and worked with an amazing number of smart, curious, creative, and collaborative people from all walks of life. Now, having some of them available as a resource, thinking about our problems, looking at them through a different lens, and helping us analyze them, an incredible asset,” Martin said.

The future

The NAPT Collaborative will be initially focused on the driver shortage, especially the use of data-driven driver recruitment and retention, but everyone involved in the effort knows that other issues are on the horizon. The dearth of accessible, understandable, centralized data, especially at the national level. Changes in school transportation funding and financing. The future of vehicle design, propulsion and telematics. Legal issues, particularly those that impact the transportation of students with disabilities. The increasing use of alternatives to traditional school transportation. Even cybersecurity. 

“The transportation department is part of a school district ecosystem,” Frederick said. “When hackers get to student data, that has a direct effect on the operation, and there needs to be greater safety, plus universal protocols and plans in place to bounce back and serve students and families.”

For now, the NAPT Collaborative is content to be two things at once: a catalyst for change, grounded in research and relationships; and a nimble, solution-based consultancy — led by Tim Ammon and Tom Platt of Decision Support Group — that can help districts solve immediate needs.

“In my mind, the Collaborative will always serve two purposes: the immediate and the big-picture,” Frederick said. “When districts call, we’ll be able to offer them