UniteGPS – Since making their debut in the 1930s, the yellow school bus has become an emblematic part of the American education system; but have you ever stopped to wonder why?

History of the yellow school bus

What we know today as the iconic yellow school bus began under the guidance of Frank Cyr. Eventually earning the title as “The Father of the Yellow School Bus,” this rural educator from Franklin, Neb. organized the nation’s first school transportation conference in 1939 at Columbia University. Mission accomplished, he sought out to establish national construction standards.

With over 30 years of experience, previously Cyr had traveled across the country making case studies of the varied school transportation services at the time. These ranged from vehicles of all colors and even horse-drawn wagons in one Kansas community. Some districts were even sporting red, white, and blue buses to promote patriotism among students prior to the conference. 

Based on his findings during research sponsored by the Rockefeller-backed General Education Board, Cyr pioneered the standardization of school buses, steadfast in his belief that a uniform color would ensure safer bus travel. 

During the meetings, Cyr presented 50 shades ranging from lemon yellow to deep orange-red, eventually settling on “National School Bus Glossy Yellow” as it’s known by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Behind this reason was the color’s high visibility and how it accentuated the bold, black writing of school district information. Every state implemented this new color designation by 1974. 

Eventually serving as the school superintendent in Chappell, Neb., Cyr claimed that mass-producing buses with specific construction standards would save school districts money in the long run. 

Should the yellow school bus still exist today?

As school districts grapple with a systemic bus driver shortage, one may wonder if tossing the yellow requirement would help alleviate this situation. For Patrick E. Parents Jr., founder of the GoSupir recruitment service for bus drivers, this policy has its limitations.  

“Just look at the school bus regulations in general. One of the reasons school bus travel has not been privatized yet is because the government has strict guidelines on what vehicles can pick up a child,” said Parents. “But if that bus is blue, feds say, hey, you can’t use that to pick up kids. And you’re like, what?”

Based on his training and professional bus driving experience, Parents uses the frame of reference that one may not necessarily need a commercial license to drive a school or transit bus. After starting his company as an Uber-like app for urban buses around Baltimore, he believes that liberalizing both the standard bus model and training could remedy the ongoing hiring woes exasperated by the pandemic.

“If I had a magic wand and I could talk to somebody in the White House, I would say consider taking down some of the regulations and restrictions, for example, the yellow bus,” said Parents, who strives to widen the window by inviting the private sector more into the school bus industry.

“When you take down some of the regulations, you open up the playing field, even down to procurement.”