North Tyneside Council improves efficiency of processing school transport applications
- North Tyneside Council worked in partnership with QRoutes to develop new software, QPaths
- Vast improvements in the speed of processing transport requests
- Significant savings through improved accuracy
Local authorities have a responsibility to make transport arrangements for all eligible children. There are statutory guidelines for ‘eligible’ (although authorities have the option to provide further discretionary transport), but broadly speaking, a pupil living more than 3 miles (2 miles for primary school) from home to the school gate are entitled to free school transport. This is usually provided as a bus pass for the local network.
It sounds straight-forward enough but there is ‘devil in the detail’. The 3-mile boundary isn’t a ‘as-the-crow-flies’ straight line. It needs to take account of the shortest path the pupil can follow, and that path needs to be ‘safe’ (for example, have adequate lighting). Sometimes the best route changes the distance of the journey and can make a difference in whether the child is eligible. Even the school gate location can affect this.
North Tyneside process in the region of 500-600 applications every year.
To determine the home-to-school distance and eligibility for each student, North Tyneside was manually calculating the applications one by one using Google Maps as a guide. On average in 2019 it took three members of staff to process the 600 applications throughout the summer.
This time-consuming process also lacks accuracy. Firstly, Google Maps does not include all of the footpaths available, omitting well used pathways such as subways and walkway cut throughs, which also resulted in misleading decisions. Secondly, at the risk of getting technical, Google Maps ‘rounds up’ distance calculations between map ‘nodes’.
Repeatability was also difficult with Google Maps, as solutions are saved as map queries, but these can return different routes from previous calculations. This is problematic when families appeal decisions.
A bespoke solution
North Tyneside is an existing customer of QRoutes and has been working as a development partner for its new distance eligibility tool, QPaths.
QPaths processes hundreds of requests in one go, saving hours of time. It takes account of multiple school gates and routes from door to nearest gate. It uses the Ordnance Survey Paths network, the most comprehensive UK mapping, and planners can access Street View to inspect road sections (for example, if the pavement is adequate). And it enables planners to block unsafe sections so that results only use paths deemed safe.
With QPaths, planners at the Council can create a precise view of students’ shortest, safest walking route, in seconds, to determine their eligibility for free school transport.
North Tyneside have been testing QPaths with fantastic results.
This year, North Tyneside received 510 applications for home to school transport. By using QPaths to assess eligibility, the Home to School Transport team have:
- achieved significant time savings, including in the appeals process with an audit trail of outcomes;
- streamlined the application process
- identified the safest walking routes to schools across North Tyneside.
- improved customer response times
Barbara Patterson from North Tyneside Council commented: “Distance eligibility testing was taking our small team too long, affecting our ability to communicate decisions to parents quickly. We wanted to improve our service to our customers and needed a fast, efficient and accurate way of identifying the safest walking route to schools across the borough. QPaths met all our requirements and has helped significantly improve our processes and therefore our service to families in North Tyneside.”
Andrew Fish, Chief Customer Officer at QRoutes adds: “We are pleased to offer a fast and highly accurate solution for planners in education and transport departments. This is particularly pertinent during the current Covid-19 pandemic when students are encouraged to walk to school and to minimise their use of public transport. Student wellbeing is a priority for us at QRoutes and we are glad that the safe walking routes identified through QPaths can give some peace of mind to parents.