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

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

Election fever

In case you hadn’t noticed(!), we’ve just had another vote. And while in the run up pundits analysed polls and predictions, others were getting on with the practicalities of preparing for an election.

The booth that you step into to cast your ballot doesn’t live at the local church hall or primary school that has been transformed into a polling station for the day. Nor do any extra lighting or heating, additional accessibility ramps, or barriers that are needed for the day.

All the election equipment has to be delivered to the polling stations ahead of time. And the Transport Team at Sheffield CC support the Election Team by planning the routes for delivering that equipment efficiently and on-time. And, you guessed it, they use QRoutes to help them do this.

Once the Election Team have booked and confirmed all the polling stations, they send the list of addresses to the Transport Team, who get to work sorting the list into schedules for the delivery of equipment before polling day and collection shortly after.

First, they convert the list into a QRoutes file, validating the addresses within the application.

Next, they enter the available fleet and create different consignment types for the equipment, allocating the time it takes to load and unload it.

And then they begin planning. There are two types of deliveries – manned and unmanned.

Unmanned buildings are part of ‘key’ routes and these are planned first, using QRoutes’ skip function.

Manned deliveries are organised separately, with care taken to ensure the delivery at each venue will be when someone is there to meet it.

There are 190 stations within the Sheffield boundary. In theory, these deliveries could be arranged in 190! ways (which is a very big number). But QRoutes helps the team find the best solutions quickly.

Mike Keen, Senior Transport Officer, says the “speed of QRoutes is useful for bulk processing”.

QRoutes’ GIS interface means the team can switch visibility of routes on and off, seeing the overall picture or drilling down for detail when they need to. And the speed of processing means they can quickly recalculate schedules if they need to.

In fact, this time around because of the threat of bad weather, the team opted to deliver much of the equipment the week before the election, rather than the Tuesday or Wednesday of election week. So, getting the job done quickly was extra helpful.

And once it was over and pundits were pondering about the results, the teams were out collecting the election equipment for storage until the next one.

Leeds City Council provides better travel experience for SEN children (and takes the sting out of rising entitlement and falling budgets) by using QRoutes

A recent review by Leeds City Council found that by using QRoutes to plan SEN home-to-school transport, the number of children who were in-vehicle for more than 75 minutes fell from 19% (July 2017) to 16% (September 2018).

QRoutes also helped the team reduce the daily number of vehicles being used to deliver services from an average of 200 per day to 175 per day. This helps the authority keep costs down and reduce the impact on traffic congestion.

Transport planning for children with mixed and often complex needs is a balancing act. Between the opposing pressures of rising entitlement and falling budgets are the clients. These children and families often rely on home-to-school transport as a vital bridge to friends, learning opportunities, and respite. QRoutes helped Leeds CC get more children to school in less time for less money.

“We found some interesting results” says Dylan Owen, Application Manager Leeds CC, “a 12.5% reduction in the number of contracts used and a 5.84% increase in vehicle occupancy utilisation. We also started the planning and tender process later than we would normally and that allowed us to wait for the last-minute changes which often hampers the planning effort.”

QRoutes helps transport planners by taking the legwork out of devising plans, producing optimised results in seconds rather than hours (or even days), giving them more time to apply their local expertise to finessing final plans, liaising with families, and operator contract management.

“This is the first year we have had a whole team of eight planners making use of a route planning tool because the QRoutes software is so easy to use” continues Dylan.

Although transport planning for home-to-school transport is usually done with authorities’ transport teams, the budget is often owned by Children’s Services or Education. Alongside an improved experience for children, QRoutes regularly saves its customers up to £1m per annum. In a climate of rising demand and squeezed budgets, the passenger experience might be expected to be a victim. The Leeds CC example shows that does not need to be the case.

Bedford Borough Council Boosts Transport Efficiency with QRoutes

Bristol, 10 April 2018 – Bedford Borough Council has employed the latest computer software from QRoutes to optimise the council’s transport services.  With transformation of Bedford’s schools from a three-tier to a two-tier structure, policy changes meant that the council’s home to school transport network had to be reorganised. QRoutes route planning software was used to assess the most efficient routes and maximise vehicle utilisation.  The re-structured services are saving the council over £200,000 a year in transport costs.

Bedford uses QRoutes, which is provided as an easy to use cloud-based service, to plan transport for 3000 school children, as well as 700 special educational needs and 1000 social care users.  The council operates a fleet of approximately 50 in-house vehicles mainly for transporting the most vulnerable people, with mainstream school transport largely contracted out.

Although Bedford had tried other systems in the past, the task of building routes was still very much a manual process because of the complexity of the many variables affecting services.  With the transformation of education coupled with budget reductions, the council had to find a way to improve the efficiency of council transport but with minimal impact on service provision.

“With council budget restrictions and policy changes we knew we had to review the council’s client transport network significantly. We needed software that could support this process of the best routes and vehicle suitability in view of all the complexities of school, special needs and social care transport,” says Chris Pettifer, Chief Officer for Transport, Bedford Borough Council.  “Over the years we have tried different systems but none really delivered what we needed and were also costly.  QRoutes has conversely been fantastic in providing an easy to use interface that cannot only re-plan our network in minutes but was also available as an affordable solution over the web.”

One of Bedford’s transport planning team using QRoutes

By improving routes Bedford has been able to reduce the number of routes, removing eight large buses from the network due to improved vehicle utilisation.  “With reorganisation and budget cuts we had to save £150k a year but by optimising operations with the help of QRoutes we were able to realise another £65k in savings, reducing transport expenditure by £215k a year,” explains Pettifer.

“For us, QRoutes arrived just at the right time.  It fitted in perfectly to scope new school routes as Bedford reorganised its schools organisation.  It used to take days or weeks to re-plan routes but with QRoutes we can run a new plan for 3000 school bus children literally in minutes.  We manually intervene sometimes as some individual requirements can be very unusual, but the system saves a lot of time and we can run different ‘what if’ scenarios to work out the best options.” Adds Pettifer.

“QRoutes has been a tremendous asset, making it so much easier and quicker to re-plan mainstream transport routes and the user interface is really simple to use” Says Daniel Barrett, Bedford’s Client Transport Officer (Education). “People at QRoutes have been brilliant and listened to our requirements and they have taken a very flexible approach to developing the software to meet our needs.”

“We have been involved with QRoutes right at its infancy” adds Pettifer. “With the basics working well, we see a great opportunity with the software and something that can grow to become an even more valuable tool for improving council-managed transport services.”

QRoutes is offered as a Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription, making it easy to access anywhere, anytime, through any web-connected device. Subscribers have automatic access to new functionality as releases come online, without having to update versions locally.