Lessons learned: Operating School Transport during a pandemic
In September, I wrote a brief article to applaud the behind the scenes work of industry professionals including operators, schools and regulators; working hard to come up with best guidance and plans to safely operate school transport services during the Covid-19 Pandemic. So where are we now and how is the industry coping?
Almost seven months later and for the most part, guidance to operate has become standardised across most countries, with minor variations to social distancing and order of process. School buses continue to be the safest form of transport for students. This is even more so given the measures that most reputable and quality operators have implemented during this pandemic. The safety protocols include: regular bus sanitisation, social distancing managed through the boarding process and seat allocation, temperature checking and, in some countries, vehicle occupancy limitation. However, these protocols alone will fail to maximise the intended results. It is imperative that schools and operators collaborate in their efforts to educate students and parents on the importance of their role and responsibilities. Communication should be ongoing and updated regularly in order to guard against complacency as the whole community continues to fight Covid-19.
Education and communicating good practice
Now is a good opportunity to adopt many of the protocols that were required to monitor, oversee and communicate the additional if not improved safety measures/processes implemented during the pandemic. Protocols such as registering students on/off bus, clarity of arrival/departure procedures from/to school gates (buses), improved communications to/from parents to know where students are, when they boarded and disembarked from the bus. Many schools already had measures in place prior to the pandemic; measures which stood them in good shape when operations resumed (not unsimilar to schools who had already invested money and time into virtual learning capabilities). Having implemented automated systems to monitor students use of the bus and arrival onto campus provided the ability to better manage risk-minimizing measures such as class and grade bubbles. Leveraging communication technology to better inform parents/students provided confidence and transparency of measures for parents. Enabling parents to communicate information, such as morning health checks prior to leaving for school, worked to involve parents and students to more effectively reinforce their diligence and role to keep others safe.
Lessons to apply post pandemic
Clearly, safety in school transportation IS the responsibility of all stakeholders, and requires collaboration, cooperation and good communication. While technology can provide support in driving efficiency and compliance in the implementation of safety procedures, it can only do so if it is built on robust and comprehensive processes.
The opportunity now and post pandemic is for schools and operators to continue to build on their collaborative efforts which have enabled students to safely return to school; document procedures, agree responsibilities and the roles for each stakeholder.
Lastly, it is more imperative than ever that schools continue to develop a good supplier relationship between themselves and their operator(s). Throughout the world, for many international and independent schools, school transportation is mission critical. During this pandemic, like many industries which rely on people travelling, the school transport industry has suffered. Recognizing the financial strain on parents/schools, many operators have worked hard to keep prices steady at a time when their own costs have increased and revenues significantly decreased. Transport operators around the world have closed down operations while many more continue to struggle.
Now is the time to strengthen school/operator relationships by continuing to work closely together, implementing (together) operating efficiencies and improvements to process in order to best service the interests of all stakeholders and to deliver the safest, quality service possible for our students.
The next article will present a portrayal of how one school went the extra mile with their supplier and turned their transport service into a USP for the school.