- Meeting of Transport, Environment & Climate Change Select Committee, Thursday, 17th September, 2020 10.00 am (Item 6.)
An update will be provided on Home to School Transport following the start of the new school term.
Councillor David Martin, Cabinet Member for Logistics
Sara Turnbull, Service Director Transport Services.
David Martin, Cabinet Member for Logistics and Sara Turnbull, Service Director Transport Services, provided an update on home to school transport following the start of the school term. The following points were as follows:
· Majority of children were now back in school and learning.
· The children that the council had a duty to take to school were doing so.
· Mr Martin thanked the Chairman and sub-committee for their support and guidance.
· The Council were providing free transport for students that were legally entitled and eligible, as per the Home to School Transport police as available on the website.
· Some children that purchased spare seats from the council were also being provided with transport.
· 7500 students were receiving school transport arranged by the council.
· Over 4000 travelled mainly on buses, and over 2000 travelled in taxis, these were mainly SEN students.
· A small number of eligible children travelled on school coaches run by private companies and on public bus routes
· A few parents claimed a mileage payment and took the children to school themselves. This was an option that had been promoted since the start of the COVID pandemic, numbers were low but increasing at the start of term.
· There were difference COVID safety arrangements around the difference vehicles. The Council followed Government guidance and it was noted that this differed in relation to a public or school bus.
· 130 bus networks ran on council contract buses. A majority were council eligible students however some included spare seat sales. Some students travelled on public buses and operators have been supported in relation to COVID requirements.
· As Buckinghamshire was a large rural county there was a network of commercial firms that supplied private transport to 5,000 students.
· During the summer term some schools were still open for key worker and vulnerable children. Officers worked with head teachers and the education department in providing school transport for over 1000 children and this had created additional workload over the summer period.
· Software and data systems had been updated as part of an improvement programme.
· A restructure of the service and staffing appointments had been undertaken. The new Head of Service would begin in role during the autumn.
· Planning for the service had been difficult due the changes in government regulations. These were responded to on a daily basis and included updates to the website and suppliers about safety measures that need to be taken.
· Notification from the government had been received in August regarding funding for home to school transport. This had created 35 additional buses to be available for the start of the school term to support social distancing.
· Timetables were published on the website for all the different bus routes and communicated to parents.
· Improvement had been made on the clarity of information provided to parents.
· Bus passes were issued at the start of term with some temporary bus passes. This was normal practice due to changes in details regarding some schools and colleges.
· There were significantly lower number of complaints in comparison to last year.
· A grant had been provided to commercial coach operators to provide support for students to get to school.
· There had been successful council led lobbying to government to ensure that school coaches would be legally able to run at the start of term.
· A Client Transport Improvement Programme board had been set up in February to provide excellent and value for money in the service.
· Next steps to improve the service would include improved data management, communications, bus network, and consideration of parents’ feedback.
In response to questions the following points were noted:
· Private bus operators were legally obliged to give notification if they intend to cancel or reduce a bus route. Officers would contact the providers and discuss with them the issues. Dependent on the circumstances some providers would continue with the service or another company could step in and successfully run school only routes.
· Regarding environmentally friendly vehicles officers were preparing a bid to request government funding for tendering of these type of vehicles. It was noted that the entire service would need to be recommissioned to be PSVAR compliant, however commercial viability would have to be considered.
· It was understood there was considerable disruption last year, complaints were significantly down this year in comparison and the service was on a journey of improvement.
· Regarding any further lockdown there was a live business continuity plan updated regularly in relation to government guidance.
· Concern was raised regarding children using seatbelts in taxi vehicles. It was requested if any specific information could be provided then officers would investigate the matter.
· Regarding the expansion of areas and the provision of schools it was noted that work was undertaken with officers and bus operators to consider new opportunities.
· Active travel had been promoted by the council and parents were encouraged to be involved. Parent and councillors were requested to contact the Cabinet Member with suggestions on how to improve sustainable and active travel.
The Chairman noted that home to school transport had been of concern to members and following the work of the team the situation was now much more positive. He thanked Sara and David for the update and thanked the officers for their hard work during these difficult times.