School Transport Post-Covid19

On 12th June 2020, we held a webinar for local authority school transport planners to discuss the impact of Covid19. These are notes from the event

There has been rife uncertainty about how and when schools will return. On the 7th June all schools in England would reopen on the 29th June. By 9th June, this had been abandoned.

Nevertheless, the future still looks uncertain.

When the schools do go back after the summer holidays (will there even be summer holidays?),

  • Will social distancing still be in place?
  • Will we be planning for children to travel in bubbles?
  • What other measures aimed at reducing contagion will be in place?
  • How will these measures affect what planners plan?

And schools also have their hands full. In this fluid and rapidly changing environment, successful stakeholder communication has never been more important. We started by asking planners how the last month has been for them.

We started by looking at local authorities’ statutory obligation to

  • promote the use of sustainable travel and transport
  • make transport arrangements for all eligible children

And that transport authorities also have an interest in ensuring that the return to school and college does not

  • create congestion,
  • contribute to air pollution or
  • pose a public health risk

Read the Urban Transport Group report on School Transport (updated 26th July 2020)

Planners can be forgiven for feeling like they’re stuck between uncertainty, looming deadlines, limited budgets and the longer strategic aims associated with the climate emergency and reducing carbon emissions.

Indeed, recognition of the demands on transport planners can be seen on the cover of this report.

QRoutes has been supporting local authorities throughout the crisis including providing free access to QRoutes to assist with route planning for emergency food supplies to vulnerable and shielding households.

And we like to think we are still here and ready to support and that speed with which QRoutes can deliver optimised solutions can give planners confidence in this age of rampant uncertainty. For example, QRoutes enables planners to

  • set up and use temporary bus stops as well as NAPTAN database,
  • plan for school road closures (to reduce congestion around schools), and
  • understand the impact of staggering school start times either for groups within the same school or across different schools.

Planning with confidence in an age of uncertainty. Get in touch to discuss how QRoutes can help get the answers you need, quickly

68% of attendees are looking at staggering school start times;
56% are looking at temporary road reallocation to active travel (e.g. pavement widening); and
25% are looking at using temporary bus stops.

Audience poll
Audience poll - are there any other implementations you are considering
Word cloud of other implementations being considered by the audience

We then heard from our guests from Birmingham City Council and National Express Accessible Transport.

They talked about how they have been responding to the crisis. They covered everything from PPE and who pays for what, to temporary screens around drivers, to personal transport budgets.

To watch the full webinar and be invited to future events, get in touch

79% of attendees are looking at offering SEND families travel budgets in place of providing transport;
17% are looking at this for mainstream provision.

Audience poll

It is undeniable that Personal Travel Budgets (PTBs) offer a practical solution to the pressing problems of social distancing and cost, but long-term this represents a threat to traffic congestion, air quality, and, of course, climate change targets.

We then moved on to Active Travel and the role this has in the post-Covid19 transport mix.

It is widely reported that the government have provided £250m of funding to support active travel investment. What if often missed is that this is the first tranche of a £2bn.

Temporary schemes set up to support socially distant travel during lockdown include

  • reallocating road space to pavements,
  • temporary bike lines, and
  • increased cycle ‘parking’.

We went to explore whether local authorities were considering access to school in decision making about active travel infrastructure and whether they should be.

QPaths, a new tool from QRoutes batch processes distance eligibility for mainstream home to school transport. It is more accurate than commonly used free tools both in distance measurements and completeness of the network.

QPaths would have reduced the number of requests eligible for a free school bus pass, as well as saving several days of work.

Our development partner

QPaths also enables local authorities to define paths as ‘unsafe’, for example if there is inadequate street lighting.

We explored an example where pupils living within 3 miles were eligible for home to school transport because of unsafe paths. And discussed the potential for this tool, with its GIS interface, to help local authorities quantify possible returns on investment.

For example, where improved walking and cycling paths could reduce future eligibility for free bus passes.

Is access to school a consideration in active travel infrastructure?

55% of attendees said access to schools is a consideration in planning active travel infrastructure.
45% were unsure as these decisions are handled by a different department.

Audience poll

Do you think access to school should be a consideration in planning active travel infrastructure?

81% Yes
19% Not sure

Audience poll

Planners feedback and discussion

In responses that echoed the opening sentiment test, planners are worried about the demands being made of them.

Averages of planners’ scaled responses to questions about their current working practices and conditions

Overall it was a useful forum to compare notes and air ideas. To watch the full webinar, including the 30 minutes Q&A, please get in touch