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
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.
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.