As N.C. school buses roll, compare ride times, and more

Thursday, August 21, 2014
More than 13,000 public school buses will be on the road as school starts back this fall. Photo: NCDPI

It is no small task to get the school bus to your neighborhood each day. Planning starts in March for most North Carolina school districts to open school in August. As buses begin their routes again this year, did you know:

  • North Carolina’s public school districts operate 13,349 public school buses.
  • Those buses travel 180,000,000 miles per year, approximately one million miles per day (CMS contributes nearly 104,000 of those daily miles).
  • 799,127 students are transported per day.
  • The average cost per bus for the school year is $33,000.
  • The average cost per student is $575.
  • A student’s average morning ride time is 23 minutes.
  • Students who ride the bus are an average of 4.27 miles from their school.

N.C. public school transportation professionals respond daily to a large variety of circumstances and challenges as they provide school bus service to nearly 800,000 students. Some districts serve very large geographic areas, others serve much small territories. Those differences affect the state’s ability to provide a uniform level of service. In addition to different geographies and demographics, local policies differ. All those things affect students’ everyday experiences traveling to and from school.

Learn More

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction publishes annual reports on pupil transportation. To see reports for the previous eight years click here

Both urban and rural districts can have early pick-up times for students. In rural areas, distance and isolation call for an early start, just to get to school. In urban areas, buses typically make multiple trips, and school bell times are spread farther apart, creating a wide range of pickup times. Currituck County, on the coast in northeastern North Carolina, has one bus route that includes a ferry ride. That contributes to early morning pickups there before 5 a.m.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the state’s second-largest district, bus rides average 14 minutes, ranging from 99 minutes for the longest ride to less than 5 minutes. The district has a large number of magnet school programs, where parents may choose to send their students, and some of those schools draw from very large geographic areas.

Below are some statistics from Charlotte-Mecklenburg and some surrounding school districts.


North Carolina funds two trips per day for students; one to school and one from school. All other bus usage and trips made in a yellow school bus are reimbursed by grants or other special program funds at the local school level. The statistics in the annual report reflect the costs and ridership information for the two trips per day to and from school that are provided by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute has partnered with N.C. Public Schools Transportation Services for more than 25 years to provide support for the Transportation Information Management System (TIMS) software. State law requires each school district in North Carolina to use the same software, which the state provides at no charge to school districts along with support for the software from staff at UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and N.C. State University (Learn more about the program at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute).

Data in this article are from the soon-to-be-released 2013-2014 TIMS Service Indicators Report.