The Covid Bulge

Title with three images of minbuses

Bristol School Transport Seminar, Part 1

We invited home to school transport planners from councils across England and Wales to take part in a QRoutes School Transport Seminar in Bristol. 

Our business development director Jeff Duffell welcomed everyone and explained what we hoped to achieve. He said: “We are bringing all these local authorities together to get people talking – as a company want to give something back.”

The School Transport Seminar kicked off with a presentation by Jason Salter, Head of Service Passenger Transport at Wiltshire Council. He’s also chairman of ATCO (Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers). Like many participants at the seminar, Jason is very experienced and has been “doing the job for 30 years”.

Like most of businesses and organisations, local authorities have been affected by the pandemic. Jason highlighted how councils were having to prepare for the “Covid bulge” – and how the impact of the virus has exacerbated the ongoing resource problems when providing transport for children with special educational needs.

All local authorities operate differently – Wiltshire is a unitary authority – but all councils share some of the same problems. Whether it is a city council providing services for urban residents or an authority with rural challenges, everyone talked about driver shortages, the difficulty in recruiting passenger assistants and managing the expectations of schools, parents and carers.

Jason asked: “What is our role as commissioners of transport?”. In his view, it was to “build capacity into our transport and labour markets in order to meet current and future demand by a dedicated resource”.

He talked about the decreasing number of taxi drivers available and the need to make it easier for taxi drivers to be licensed. He’s involved in a big piece of work being done nationally to put pressure on the National Association of Taxi Licensing for an expedited pathway for SEN drivers which, for example, doesn’t include a ‘knowledge test’.

Graph showing the increase in the number of SEN clients and decrease in the number of available drivers over time

Jason described how his team was structured and discussed the benefits of having a member of staff with “one foot in transport and one foot in SEND”, someone who can act as a conduit between the two departments.

Jason praised his team for working hard to ensure service users’ needs were taken seriously. He worries home-to-school transport is not taken seriously enough by those in government – but said they were lucky at Wiltshire Council as “the senior people get it”.

Rounding up his presentation, he said “the people who’ve made the effort to get here today – care about this”.

We’re hosting a second School Transport Seminar in Newcastle on 27th January. Register now to secure your place