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.

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.

Planning with Confidence and Clarity – notes from the QRoutes User Group

Earlier this month we welcomed 40 QRoutes Users from as far afield as North Tyneside and East Sussex to our User Group Meeting in Birmingham.

QRoutes User Groups are an opportunity for the community of school transport planners to compare notes, and share challenges and successes. And this, the third, was the biggest and best yet.

The day started with a presentation from Adrian Weissenbruch of Wiltshire County. Adrian gave an overview of the context in Wiltshire, a rural county with 1112 SEND clients attending 153 different schools and 290 passenger assistants. The team first applied QRoutes to Wiltshire College, a post-16 college, and was able to reduce the contract by 3 vehicles (23%) with initial savings of around £60k. Initial results suggest QRoutes will save them 37% of vehicles for a second school.

Another key outcome for the team is the time saved. QRoutes helps them get the planning done quicker, leaving more time for contract management.

How much could you save? Find out with our savings calculator

We followed with a summary of QRoutes 2.0. Customers have been slowing migrating to this new version over the summer. It has an updated look and feel with improved functionality and new features including peak and off-peak road speeds, mainstream bus stop allocation and improved scheduling to multiple schools.

Before lunch delegates took part in a hands-on challenge to use QRoutes 2.0 to find the most efficient way to deliver given journeys using bus stops and avoiding roads which often flood and low height bridges. Well done to Kyle from Barnsley, who was first to find the result!

Two other companies summarised their products designed to help QRoutes users.

  • Esoterix introduced JourneyBatcher, a tool to identify which students can travel to and from school by existing public transport. Watch a short video about JourneyBatcher here
  • Pax introduced their contract management database system.

After lunch, members of the QRoutes team presented on the findings of other local authorities, including the process Pembrokeshire had followed developing new routes from scratch that differed according to the day of the week, coped with exceptions, and grouped schools for efficiency.

User Groups are also an opportunity to ask our customers for guidance. It’s all too easy when developing software to make assumptions about what is useful rather than taking the time to understand what is needed. So at these events, we get Users to vote on features in the development ‘backlog’. We use these votes to prioritise the work to make sure we deliver the most useful features first.

The day closed with a presentation from Dylan Owen, Leeds. The Leeds team has several drivers for change, including rising per client costs, a need for improved passenger experience, and a need to standardise the planners’ approach across the team for more robust plans with fewer last minute changes.

Dylan’s initial comment was, “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.” And QRoutes has helped them deliver on their targets too

  • Average vehicle occupancy is up 5.94%
  • Complaints about lateness are down 36% suggesting more robust plans
  • Number of clients on board for more than 75 minutes is down 84%

Improved passenger experience by keeping ride times down was a fitting note on which to end the day. All the talk of efficiency and budgets can obscure the fact that planners enable children to get to school; among their clients are vulnerable families coping with difficult situations. Transport is the vital link for opportunities for children and respite for carers. It’s good work and should be recognised as such. Big up the planners!


Thank you to everyone who got up early to join us. The QRoutes User Group 2108 was attended by

  • Barnsley
  • B&NES
  • Bedford
  • Birmingham
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Coventry
  • Dudley
  • East Sussex
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • North Tyneside
  • Nottinghamshire
  • Pax
  • Somerset
  • Suffolk
  • Wiltshire
  • Kent sent apologies

 

Jeff walks a circuitous marathon for Cancer Research

Shine Walk for Cancer Research mapJeff, our Business Development Director, recently completed a marathon! He did walk it (literally!) so you might think that’s not so difficult. But he recoups kudos because it was overnight.

He and his group set off on The Shine Walk at 9.30pm from Southwark Park and wending their way through Fleet Street, Pentonville Road, Park Lane, Knightsbridge, past Buckingham Palace, down The Mall, Strand, Whitehall, Birdcage Walk, along Millbank, past the Houses of Parliament and a scaffolded Big Ben, along the South Bank and over London Bridge just after 7am to finish. QRoutes could have found a more efficient route but in this case that wasn’t the point.

He was, in his own inimitable words, “knackered”.

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Jeff at the finish line of the Shine Walk
We did it! Jeff at the finish line of The Shine Walk for Cancer Research

As a group they raised a whopping £2,000+ for Cancer Research. You can still donate to his individual effort here

Miniplus mentions QRoutes

Miniplus ran a short article about Kent County Council’s use of QRoutes recently. You can read the article here

Look out for their longer feature in the September issue, to be published 20th August.

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.