by Katrina Deloso

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs graduate Samuel Speroni MURP ‘20, has been awarded the Neville A. Parker Award for best capstone project for his research on ride-hailing as school transportation for vulnerable student populations.

Speroni worked with the ride-hailing service HopSkipDrive to analyze whether new mobility options could offer comparable school transportation options to foster youth, homeless students, and students with disabilities. His capstone project was supported by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies and the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

“I’m honored to receive this award, and I’m optimistic that it signals a larger recognition of school transportation’s importance in the overall study of transportation issues,” said Speroni, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA.

Although school attendance is mandatory, California school districts are not required to provide school transportation — and in the state’s metropolitan areas, there is almost no yellow school bus service. This creates inequities for vulnerable student populations and students from low-income and minority communities, further perpetuating the educational achievement gap. Speroni analyzed highschoolers’ school-bound trips through HopSkipDrive, which contracts with Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to provide transportation to school for select Los Angeles Unified School District students. He found that the contracted trips predominantly begin in non-white and lower-income neighborhoods, consistent with transportation and education inequities those students face.

Most importantly, Speroni found that HopSkipDrive is critical for providing vulnerable high school students in Los Angeles with a travel-to-school option comparable in time to their peers. On average, the analysis found that had students taken public transit instead of HopSkipDrive, the trips would take twice as long. Across 26,000 contract trips to school in the 2018-19 school year, HopSkipDrive saved students nearly four years total in travel time.

“School transportation is generally an understudied topic, and that is especially true for vulnerable student populations,” Speroni said. “As a former high school teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how the journey to and from school can have a detrimental effect on students — especially those who already face the biggest barriers to learning.”

Speroni’s award, presented on Jan. 6, marks the 10th time a UCLA student has won this award since 2002. The award is given annually by the Council of University Transportation Centers to two recipients for the best master’s project in either policy and planning, or science and technology.

“Sam’s capstone exemplifies the high quality of student work produced here at Luskin,” said Evelyn Blumenberg, professor of urban planning and director of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. “His research provides much-needed analysis on inequities in school transportation, particularly in such a large and diverse region as LA County. I’m very pleased to continue working with Sam over the coming years as he pursues his doctorate.”

Speroni’s capstone project was also recognized by the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center, which named him UTC Student of the Year.