• Chris Coles

Do you know your transport service? No, seriously…

So, you’re running 50 home-to-school routes, or 300 or 1,000. Do you know where they go, do you have the correct timings, do you know all the passengers?


What we have found is that most school and local authorities will answer with either a resounding yes or perhaps a yes with fingers crossed behind their back. Unfortunately, the evidence shows something different and what they think they know isn’t, in fact, the case in reality.

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Are you completely confident that if your transport provider disappeared overnight that you would know every single detail of your transport service? If you are, then you are very much the exception. If not then you are leaving yourself open to some serious problems with children left at the side of the road and irate parents calling in or, worse, taking to social media to regale their audience with how awful you are!


One school had their sole transport operator go bust 4 days before the start of term, a victim of COVID and rising fuel prices. They contacted a transport management company who said that they could provide a replacement service and asked for the details of the routes. It was at this moment that the school realised that they had no details for the routes whatsoever: no stops, no timings, no passenger lists. All they knew was that the vehicles arrived at school on time and their pupils go off. Fortunately, the company that had gone out of business was good enough to engage with the new company and provided some details and helped reduce the disruption, but it was a bit of a mad scramble.


One council that we have worked with was switching from one transport management software package to another and had a tremendously difficult time getting the data out of the old system. It also became very clear that they only had partial data, with no stop information being held or collection timings for SEN children who were being collected from their homes; all of those details were arranged privately between the operator (or driver) and the parents of the child.


Another local authority simply hands over the arranging of transport to operators and they make all the arrangements with the LA essentially having no knowledge of the actual specific logistics.


All of these scenarios have the potential to cause significant reputational damage to a school or LA. Imagine the headlines if something went wrong and it was discovered that the responsible organisation had delegated its responsibility to a third-party transport provider. At the very least you had better be able to demonstrate a robust audit and continuing assessment protocol but, even with this in place, you leave yourself open to significant - and justified - criticism.


All too often drivers make private arrangements with parents so that the pick-up point is moved to the end of the road, for example, or a specific piece of information such as a gate code. If this information isn’t recorded, then what happens when the regular driver is sick or leaves the company? The parent and the child are left expecting a particular service and will likely make a complaint when they don’t receive it, but the operator and you, as the providing agency, have no idea what they are talking about.


There are several transport management software packages in the market, but care should be taken to make sure that any tender or award is to a company that meets all of your needs. The core requirement must be that it provides a single ‘source of truth’ for all of your data: routes, stops, timings, passengers, passenger notes including necessary medical information. This should be able to be accessed by your own organisation as well as your transport providers and schools. How often has there been conflict between a report that was created a week ago and one that was printed today? Having a system that can be consulted by all interested parties, with different levels of access and editing ability is the basis of a well-managed service. A Transport Officer can access the entire database, a school can see the routes and passengers, an operator can see the routes and pricing and have restricted access to the passenger information that they need to provide the service but no more.


A key advantage of a quality piece of software is the ability to view Key Performance Indicators, on an easy-to-digest dashboard, allow for a quick review of the service and can highlight areas of concern that require a deeper dive.

computer with data and analytic

Many pieces of software now allow for a driver or passenger assistant to be issued with a device where their live location can be seen and they can board or alight passengers as the route progresses. When I was operating transport in my first school a vehicle was stuck on the M25 on its way into the school after having collected the passengers. Because I was using a quality piece of transport management software I could see exactly where the vehicle was, and also which passengers were on board. Armed with this information I was able to inform the teaching staff of the situation. Had I not been using this software I could potentially have had the situation where we simply did not know where the children were due to the fact that calls to the driver went unanswered as he was on the motorway, albeit stationary.


panic written in cubes on a blue background

So with all of this said, let me pose the question again:


Do you know where they go, do you have the correct timings, do you know all the passengers?


Are you completely confident that if your transport provider disappeared overnight that you would know every single detail of your transport service?


If you are leaving some of the details to your operators, then the answer has to be no. An accurate single-source-of-truth data set easily accessed and with clean reports is vital to an effective and robust transport service.


Here at School Transport Management, we are experts in helping schools or local authorities in making sure that their transport services are compliant, efficient and with a strong data-centric approach to service delivery.