The school run & the climate emergency

Tackling the threat to the planet’s climate means making fundamental changes in the way we all live and work. It’s a global issue. The earth’s temperature is rising with the past seven years being the warmest on record. 

Every local authority has been set a government target to cut carbon emissions – and more than 200 councils across the UK have declared a climate emergency. And Climate UK has created a council climate league table.

It’s time to take action

Many councils have already started consulting residents to create strategies looking at how to make transport, buildings, energy, food and farming greener. 

It’s a huge challenge as they come under extreme financial pressure with budgets and services being cut. 

The school run’s impact on the climate

Looking at transport, estimates suggest 25% of cars during peak hours are on the school run. One simple way to reduce emissions is to encourage children to catch the bus, walk or cycle.

This is also important in addressing the unsafe levels of air pollution.  

According to a recent Unicef report, “The Toxic School Run”, one in three children in the UK are growing up in areas with toxic air, with the majority of it coming from vehicle emissions.

Public Health England’s 2019 report stated “working with children and their parents to implement no-idling zones outside schools, make it easy for children to walk or cycle to school and increase public awareness in relation to air pollution and children. This will reduce air pollution in the vicinity of schools and reducing children’s exposure accordingly.”

The cost of the school run

School transport is a substantial part of any local authority’s budget but the rising demand for transport required by children with special needs is putting more pressure on budgets which are already under strain. 

As a result ‘discretionary’ home-to-school transport (where authorities choose to provide it rather than must by law) has declined 27% since 2015. 

But there are practical steps authorities can take to address costs and reduce emissions.

Infrastructure improvements for safer active travel to school

Infrastructure improvements (e.g. a zebra crossing or improved street lighting) can deliver returns on investment by making active travel (walking and cycling) safer for children travelling to school. 

Studies show that active travel improves health, wellbeing and academic achievement.

Optimised routes

And optimising shared routes (buses, minibuses or other vehicles) for SEND and mainstream home to school transport can also reduce costs, CO2 emissions, and reduce traffic congestion around schools.

What our customers say

More than 35 local authorities have signed up to use either QPaths, QRoutes or both because they’re accurate, easy to use and deliver demonstrable savings. 

Some councils have even used it to help with wider strategic planning such as working out the best location to build a new school. 

QRoutes helps authorities reduce CO2 and air pollution caused by the school run improving the environment for generations to come.

Helping you green the school run

To explore how we could help you reduce the environmental impact of the school run and improve air quality around schools, let’s talk

Why didn’t we save money after spending so much on a new Transport Management system?

In the last 30 years, many local authorities have invested large sums of money purchasing and implementing systems to manage their data for transport services, such as home to school. But, it seems, most of these authorities continue to wonder if the cost savings they hoped for are ever realised.

So why aren’t the savings obvious?

Pie chart showing the proportion of transport costs associated with contracts compared to planning overheads

The savings aren’t obvious because traditional systems aren’t good at optimising the majority of the spend.

The chart shows how the cost of providing transport (for mainstream school, SEN, SC& H etc.) is split between that directly associated with transport contracts and the expense of overheads, such as offices and people managing the contracts.

It may not be exactly 95% relating to the contract costs for all authorities but it is of that order.

The quality of service provision is essential; the consequences of error can be dire – e.g. leaving a vulnerable child stranded without transport. Many functions within transport management systems relate to ‘getting it right’; making the workflow of planning and managing passenger data and services secure and robust. This may save some money by creating smooth processes and reducing errors, but the savings aren’t obvious because the proportion compared to the total budget is so small.

To save money in school transport target the highest costs

Where authorities need to save money, the focus needs to be on reducing the number of contracts and ensuring that the remaining contracts are as efficient as possible.

Time and again, authorities tell us that the routing component within larger systems, if there is one at all, isn’t as good as an experienced human planner. This is because routing problems are complex. The best technical solutions are based on advanced algorithms and machine learning that are beyond the scope of the development of a database system.

This is where specialist, automated GIS based route planners, like QRoutes, step in. Our customers regularly report a reduction of between 10% and 20% in the cost of their contracts as a result of using QRoutes. Cost savings that are often six or even 7 figures.

QRoutes is a stand-alone tool which interfaces with, rather than existing within a big system. So, authorities can gain the benefit of advanced routing functions, saving money without the pain and expense of replacing their systems.

QRoutes focusses on the improvement of contracts, reducing them in number while ensuring the remaining stick to operational policies. We target development effort at making QRoutes the best tool available to your planners without having to also continuously develop another database system.

Challenge us

Challenge us – is your routing solution giving the best results? Test QRoutes against your current routing solution, for free, using your data, at your site by booking a visit now

The Parent’s Perspective

This week I listened to one of the most difficult presentations of my life. I feel it is something I should comment on but I hardly know where to start.

At QRoutes we sell market-leading software that helps school transport planners plan home to school transport for special educational needs and disabilities children.

We boast that our product helps find efficiencies that mean more children can access educational and social opportunities for lower per-passenger cost and that the quality of the planning ensures those children complete their journeys within the recommended time.

We like to believe what we do delivers value in human as well as monetary ways.

And that’s all true. It’s just that when the mother of a disabled young man stands up and tells their stories, hers and her son’s, it’s humbling and gives urgency to the process of helping planners find the best solutions.

Mike (not his real name) was born with severe disabilities but he went to school, met other children, and got out and about. That gave Jane (also not her real name) the space to get her ‘A’ levels, then a degree, and finally to become an English teacher. Jane felt life was on the up and dreamed of moving out of rented accommodation and buying a house.

But when Mike turned 16, his home-to-school transport was withdrawn and everything changed for them both.

Jane’s salary didn’t stretch to paying for the assisted transport Mike needs but she couldn’t take Mike to school herself and keep her job.

So Mike had to stop going to school. At a time when the world is opening up for most teenagers, his world began to shrink.

And Jane had to give up her job to look after him. She can’t earn more than £250 a month as that jeopardises the benefits she relies on. Tragically, she believes she’ll never be able to work as a teacher again – a job she loved.

The decision to withdraw transport for 16+ is a policy choice because of pressure on budgets.

It’s a choice that is devastating for families like Jane and Mike; I hope it wasn’t an easy choice to make; it can’t be easy for the officers who have to enforce it.

While QRoutes is a market leader in finding the best solutions for routing home-to-school children with complex needs, listening to Jane, and the impact Mike’s transport has had on their respective lives, writing a clever piece of software sounds like the easy bit.