Planners discuss challenges from increase in fuel prices and shortage of drivers

We recently held a meeting for 19 councils from across the UK with more than 30 home-to-school transport planners taking part.

It was brilliant to hear and see all the comments as they discussed common challenges.

Themes raised during the meeting included contract ‘hand-backs’, the current national shortage of drivers, and the expectations of schools and parents.

Driver shortage ‘biggest challenge’

Most planners felt the biggest challenge to keeping costs down was the driver shortage, closely followed by the rise in the price of fuel. A limited supply of vehicles also made it difficult to be financially efficient.

Assessing the validity of cost increases

Many planners talked about drivers “taking advantage” including an example of a driver asking for a 40% increase.

During the discussion, it emerged that several authorities don’t ask operators for a breakdown in costs. One respondent shared a rule of thumb for costs which attributes 33% to the driver, 33% to the operator, and 33% to the fuel. One participant pointed out that some drivers are also operators.

Exploring alternative models to keep costs down

Survey results showing very few authorities have an internal fleet; about a third have electric vehicles; and about half use fully accessible vehicles.

None of the attendees mentioned having internal fleets. However, QRoutes knows of a couple of councils that are exploring plans to bring in an internal fleet. This is to improve access vehicle utilisation.

We would love to hear what planning teams think about how this could work.

Electric vehicles and PSVAR compliance are reasonably well represented in the vehicles used.

Differences in how councils operate compliance

When talking about compliance, the differences in how each council operates emerged – some have compliance officers, another has a ‘quality assurance officer’, and another council makes their compliance checks when complaints or issues are raised.

One council said they worked alongside their compliance manager and after checking issues would possibly go out to a school and check the situation.

High expectations from schools and parents

The topic which created the most debate was about the expectation of schools.

Comments included schools are overwhelmed with their own challenges; they “have enough to deal with to worry about transport so they don’t engage”.

And that sometimes schools want “immediate changes when sometimes it is simply not possible” due to current vehicle and/or staff shortages.

Most of the planners taking part in the webinar seemed to have experienced similar problems with schools due to their “huge expectations”, with schools often blaming the transport staff.

Suggestion: Some of our customers use QRoutes to explain the implications of transport decisions to stakeholders. The ability to quickly reschedule different solutions and show them on the map can help planners communicate the reasons for choices clearly. This can be particularly helpful when the school stakeholders don’t know the geography of the area well. 

Occasionally planners are accused that they don’t understand the needs of individual pupils. Whereas, on the contrary, planners are trying to accommodate the needs of all the children on the vehicle.

The emotions around SEN transport can run high and a transport planner’s job involves a lot more than working out routes from home to school.

When the family-school-transport relationship works well

Some planners have had a more positive experience and said the schools help by acting as a go-between with the parents. This is particularly helpful where families’ use English as a second language.

Other examples included schools that let the planners know if a pupil is not coming in so they can cancel the transport.

One planner said it helped to be a “visible presence” at the school as they visit regularly.

Do these challenges resonate with you? We would love to hear your views. Get in touch or comment on our Twitter or LinkedIn posts.

QRoutes helps planners find efficiencies in how home to school transport is delivered. Its solutions use fewer vehicles (fewer drivers), less mileage (less fuel), and improve the travel experience for clients. 
Start with a Snapshot report to explore what's possible. 

Driver shortage impacts school transport

The national shortage of HGV drivers has been well publicised and it’s also impacting on school transport. 

Kent, North Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Bridgend

The lack of bus drivers has disrupted many home-to-school routes for both mainstream students and those with special needs, who may need a taxi or specialist vehicle. 

Costs are going up

Some local authorities have told us their costs are increasing as operators charge double, and sometimes triple, compared to previous contracts.

When we calculate the savings QRoutes finds our customers, we estimate the cost of a contract at £20k, but we’ve heard stories of new contracts costing in the region of £70k.

The increase in fuel prices is also having an impact on budgets. 

Distress for children

Parents of children with special needs have been sharing stories on social media about the distress caused by the disruption and uncertainty. 

One mum said her autistic daughter relied on a routine and familiarity. She said the confusion at the beginning of the school year had caused upset at an already stressful time. 

“She’s had tears, meltdowns and mental health issues and it’s just not acceptable. Parents are fuming, we are very angry.”

Nationwide shortage

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) estimated there was a national shortage of 4,000 bus drivers and suggested areas hit the hardest were Scotland, the north east of England, Bristol and the South West. 

CPT said: “It is having an impact across the country. More bus drivers are quitting than we can recruit and talk of higher-paid jobs in road haulage is adding to the problem.

“Some have unquestionably been attracted to lorry driving by all this talk about wages increasing.”

Covid makes things worse

Bus operator First West of England said they were short of about 70 drivers in Bristol and Bath. And said the situation had been exacerbated by some existing drivers having to self-isolate or take time off sick after testing positive for Covid-19.

Efficient routes help

QRoutes route optimisation helps our customers find ways to deliver journeys which often need fewer vehicles than other solutions. With the shortage of drivers pushing costs up, this is more important than ever.

Get in touch today to explore how QRoutes can help you

Thinking outside the ‘back office’

By Andrew Fish, QRoutes Customer Success Manager

Words like ‘excited’ and ‘delighted’ are sometimes overused in business, but how else to describe how we feel about our latest case study?

Perhaps it is because it shows a genuine step forward in the approach local authorities are taking to procuring systems.

Last year, Central Bedfordshire Council embarked on an ambitious project to streamline their applications process for home-to-school transport.

They’ve built a process that works for them by combining products from QRoutes and three other software suppliers.

Faster and more accurate

As a result, they’re now processing 53% of all applications automatically; a further 38% need only a light-touch review. Only 9% of all applications need full manual reviews.

This improves the client experience, with faster, more accurate responses through self-service online access. And it gives the planning team more time to focus on the cases that need their attention.

This modular and partnered approach marks a step-change from the cumbersome back-office solutions that have been prevalent in the industry for the last twenty years

The way things were

Typically, one central database with a rich and accurate dataset along with all-encompassing functionality on top seemed like a great idea.

The market became dominated by a few specialist suppliers who understood the business domain thoroughly and would adapt their systems by adding layer upon layer of fantastic new features.

But there were technical downsides…

Large information systems can be difficult to adapt quickly to the changing needs of an authority and technology advancements.

Organisations now want more agility, to be ready to respond to their customers using modern digital technologies.

All-encompassing solutions can take a long time to implement and onboard and are expensive to customise. Many authorities then found themselves locked-in for many years with a single supplier because the cost of change is so prohibitive.

But not any more…

Central Bedfordshire’s approach

Integrating multiple products that supports a variety of business services, such as education and transport, needs a fresh mindset. – Thinking outside the back office!

It can involve multi-supplier relationships, something which council IT and Procurement teams have been wary of in the past but, increasingly, are more comfortable with because software technology makes it easier.

Playing to partners’ strengths

This approach helps authorities build process and customer experiences that work for them. It combines the best partners’ strengths for a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.

The modular model provides more flexibility for the council to adapt and evolve systems and, importantly, to have more control over products and investment costs.

The arrival of subscription-based pricing models further increases this flexibility.

Rebalancing the power

And, finally, this approach helps authorities ensure they are getting the best quality and service.

If they are not happy with an element, they can replace it with another service provider’s solution without having to overhaul the whole system.

This places greater emphasis on the software supplier to innovate and provide value for money, putting the power back into the hands of authority.

So, yes, we are excited about this latest case study. If you can think of a better word, let me know…

Read the case study here

Technology firms work together to help council plan home-to-school journeys

QRoutes has teamed up with transport management specialists Pax Systems to provide local authority transport planners with an online data management and routing system dedicated to their needs.

East Lothian Council is the first Scottish local authority to sign up and plans are in place to migrate over to the new system in the forthcoming months.

The council’s transport planning team will be supported by QRoutes and Pax Systems as they import data from Scotland’s education management system SEEMiS and its Click and Go transport module.

Phil Dyson, from Pax Systems, said the collaboration with QRoutes had created a unique and straightforward software package, enabling local authorities to deliver an efficient home-to-school transport service for schools and students.

Before setting up Pax Systems, Phil worked up to the Head of Integrated Transport at a county council and uses this knowledge to provide software that exactly matches local authority transport team needs.

“Councils are driven by customer needs, contract management and efficient use of budgets. For example, this integrated product can give local authorities a monthly forecast of spend and trends in client-demand. It’s easy to use and departments can get real control of route efficiency and a granular understanding of where spend is going,” he said.

“The days of councils being locked into a single software supplier are changing. Cloud technology and modern interfaces mean different solutions can talk to each other.”

Andrew Fish, Customer Success Manager, QRoutes

Andrew Fish, from QRoutes, said: “The days of councils being locked into a single software supplier are changing. Cloud technology and modern interfaces mean different solutions can talk to each other. This provides greater choice and flexibility for councils who are looking to update their business systems. East Lothian Council liked the routing software we provide, but they needed data management. The integration with Pax Systems is the ideal solution.”

East Lothian Council currently transports 1,266 pupils, on private contracts, as well as operating 56 routes and providing a supported public service network.

Bruce Moffat, Service Manager for Transport & Waste, said introducing a new system, along with delivering the service during the pandemic, had been a “unique challenge”.

He said: “East Lothian Council has chosen the QRoutes/Pax system as a replacement for the SEEMiS transport module, which has recently been removed from service.

“The new package brings an additional level of routing options along with administering our home to school transport provision. The Transport Services Team has been working closely with QRoutes and Pax to ensure the product meets the criteria of requirements.”

He added the system would primarily be used for mainstream home-to-school journeys with the intention of rolling it out to Additional Support Needs (ASN), the Scottish College Partnership and adult service provisions.

QRoutes helps trauma charity bring Christmas cheer to hundreds of isolated families

As London entered tier three, trauma charity Body & Soul continued its vital work. The team was busy organising the delivery of over 500 hampers to families isolated and impacted by the pandemic.

“We had to do something”

Hollie Smith, from Body & Soul, said: “We always mark the end of the year with a big Christmas party to celebrate everyone’s achievements – big and small. There had to find a different way to respond to such a difficult year. The office now looks like Santa’s Grotto as volunteers and staff pack hundreds of gifts and hampers.”

Manual planning would be “complicated”

Volunteer Ruby Stringer, whose day job is in sustainable transport planning, realised the logistics of delivering hampers all over London would be “complicated”.

“It’s not very often that transport planning is seen as a useful skill and I thought this is my chance. We also wanted to make sure drivers had time to check in with members – and that it wasn’t just a delivery but someone who cares,” she said.

QRoutes to the rescue

QRoutes came to the rescue. We took on the challenge to create a bespoke plan to deliver hundreds of hampers in time for Christmas.

See Body & Soul’s summary of The Big Give

Gratefully received

One Body & Soul member said: “I don’t know what to do or what to say.  I have never received a gift like this. Thank you so much it is really appreciated.”

All in a day’s work

Rob Roberston, from QRoutes, said: “Throughout the year, we’ve been helping organisations to plan deliveries around Covid restrictions. We are delighted to help Body & Soul bring some Christmas cheer to families in need.”

You can support Body & Soul’s work here

2020 hindsight

It’s hard to know where to start when looking back at 2020. We’re all a bit shell-shocked, aren’t we? A year ago, images of Wuhan in lockdown were on the news; a curiosity that hardly seemed possible here. Here’s our take-away of what happened next for us and you, our community.

So, let’s start with you…

This year you have collectively directed your expertise to sort out how to get 🍱 food to shielding families,📚 get educational resources to socially disadvantaged children, 😷 get PPE to care homes, 🧪 COVID test kits to schools,👵 get adults receiving social care into day centres, and 🚸 get special educational needs and disabled children into school.

You’ve planned new school routes for bubbles, ‘knitted extra buses over the weekend’, and generally been all round superheroes! 🦸🏽‍♀️🦸‍♂️

Extra support for planning tasks

Throughout, we have looked at ways to support you, both our customers and the wider planning community. In March we began offering additional QRoutes support and even temporary subscriptions free of charge to those working to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. That included local authorities and charities distributing school meals, food deliveries and other essential items to children, vulnerable households and others in need.

A magnifying glass brings trees in a forest into sharp focus

In the midst of the distraction and ominous claustrophobia of the initial lockdown, we released a treasure hunt ‘quiz’. It was an opportunity for you to pursue something just for fun for a short while.

We planted trees for every successful completion. Well done to those of you that completed it. We have purchased one and a half acres in Argentina from the World Land Trust as a result.

Community forum

There was a strange duality to the summer month: a global urgency to do something coupled with a paralysis about what that should be.

In June, we ran a well-attended webinar on the future of school transport post-COVID, providing a forum for local authorities to share their response plans and discuss next steps.

Product developments

Meanwhile, we adapted QRoutes to make it easier to use for package deliveries, and we have released two new products.

  • A cut down version of QRoutes, QRoutes Lite, designed to meet the needs of smaller authorities. And
  • QPaths, a completely new tool for calculating safe walking route distances for a whole cohort in a flash.

We’re also delighted to be working with Pax Systems on an integrated database and finance solution – coming soon.

Welcome new customers

And despite the hiatus, we’ve welcomed new customers Cumbria, Cambridge and Peterborough, East Riding, Manchester, and Walsall.

Season’s greetings

As 2020 draws to a close, it promises to be a quiet holiday break. We send you our warmest wishes for a peaceful and contented time.

Happy Christmas ????✨

Using QRoutes for COVID tasks

It’s been the year of the COVID-curveball and tricky to say the least.

QRoutes has been there, ready to support planners with exceptional planning tasks. If you’re battling any of these, you might like to know, there’s an easier way to…

… plan in bubbles

Need to quickly and easily understand what’s needed to get children to school in their bubbles? Need clear outcomes to share with stakeholders?
QRoutes can help.

… plan for social distancing on vehicles

Need to understand the feasibility and cost of delivering socially distanced trips? Want to test the impact of using alternative fleets?
QRoutes can help.

… plan for social distancing at bus stops

Need to reallocate some students to alternative bus stops to avoid too many gathering at one place?
QRoutes can help.

… plan the distribution of emergency response supplies

Need to get warm meals, food parcels, or educational resources to vulnerable households? Need to plan the distribution of PPE to care homes?
QRoutes can help.

It has been one big nightmare getting the children all back to school, although must admit would have been 10 times worse without QRoutes.

Lynette Marks, Dudley
September 2020.

We’re here to help.

Roll-up, roll-up! G-Cloud 12 is here

QRoutes, QRoutes Lite and QPaths are all available via G-Cloud 12, for simple, hassle-free procurement.

G-Cloud is an UK Government’s initiative aimed at easing the procurement process for the public sector of cloud computing services.

It includes a series of framework agreements with suppliers, from which public sector organisations can buy services without needing to run a full tender or competition procurement process. And an online digital marketplace where where public bodies can search approved solutions.

QRoutes has been live on the G-Cloud portals since G-Cloud 9. But QRoutes Lite and QPaths are new entries.

You can see the respective entries by following the links below.

QRoutesQRoutes LiteQPaths

And, of course, any questions, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Clarity on savings in SEN transport – now for a smaller price

September 2020. The world continues to battle Covid and the consequences of Covid.

In the UK, the government are seeking to steady the economic ship and re-establish some sense of normality. Although nobody seems to know what normality looks like, except that it is different to before. Or should be. Maybe.

Whatever the future holds, it’s safe to assume the drive to reduce costs will remain constant. And answers to how and where this money can be found will be more valuable.

Good news then that those answers can now be found at a lower price.

QRoutes Lite is the latest product in the QRoutes suite. It has the same look and feel as QRoutes and uses the same mighty optimisation engine. 

It is ‘lite‘ because the functionality is limited to planning SEN transport, making it ideal for local authorities who want to identify savings in this area. 

QRoutes customers typically find 10% to 15% savings in contract costs along with improvements in client experience and emissions. Yes, really: lower costs, better service and lower emissions.

If come 2021, you’ll need to find actionable savings while maintaining services, take a look at QRoutes Lite. Get in touch today to find out more