Commons Gate

School travel (HC 911-ii)

Transport Committee 15 Oct 2008

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Evidence given by
Association of School and College Leaders, Mr Derek Bodey, Chair of the ASCL Learning and Skills Committee
National Association of Head Teachers, Ms Kathryn James, Senior Assistant Secretary, Mr Chris Harrison Head Teacher, Oulton Broad Primary School;
Modeshift, Ms Emma Sheridan, Chair;
Stagecoach Group Mr Les Warneford, Managing Director, Stagecoach UK Bus;
Confederation of Passenger Transport, Mr Steven Salmon, Director of Policy Development, Mr Giles Fearnley, President;
FirstGroup, Mr Leon Daniels, Commercial Director, UK Bus: uploaded on 21 October 2008

Q134 Mr. David Clelland: Just sticking with local authorities, do you have any evidence that local authorities use transport provision as a lever to encourage students to remain within the local authority schools and local authority colleges?

Mr Bodey: Certainly in terms of college transport, if you went onto the Travel Plans for authorities in my area you will see that some of them will allow supported travel outside of the authority and others will not, and some of them will allow it for certain courses and not for others, and that is a direct disincentive.

Q135 Mr. David Clelland: How do you see the proposed regional transport provision based on travel to learn areas working in practice?

Mr Bodey: It will work in practice provided the local authorities agree that their boundaries are not the exact boundaries of the authority.

Q136 Mr. David Clelland: So you are not confident the local authorities will be able to work across the authority boundaries to ensure that students have proper access to transport?

Mr Bodey: I think without some direction it is likely to be patchy.

Q137 Mr. David Clelland: So would it be better then perhaps, particularly for the 16 - 19 age group accessing further education or even sixth form colleges, to have a regional transport policy rather than a local government transport policy?

Mr Bodey: I would go further and say why donít we have a national policy? We have the infrastructure to work out how people should be remunerated because we have done it for people over the age of 60. There is no reason why that same methodology should not be applied to young people, not necessarily free but at a fixed national rate.

Q138 Mr. David Clelland: Do you mean make it specific to school travel, because you have related to the over 60s travel but that is for travel anywhere at any time for anything?

Mr Bodey: Again, the majority provider in my area has taken that commercial decision to provide students up to the age of 19 with a pass they can use not simply to get to college but actually to use to go the cinema and visit friends for a flat rate. The infrastructure is there. We have cracked it in terms of doing it for the over 60s and we could apply the same methodology to produce a national scheme for all people staying in education. If we are going to have people staying in education and training until the age of 18, then there needs to be some sort of national scheme to support that.

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Q178 Mr. David Clelland: Are you familiar with the work of the North East Youth Assembly and the Bus Buddies project? This is something which they launched themselves because of their concerns about travel availability for young people and they did quite an effective job, actually, and contacted bus operators, local authorities and politicians such as myself, which is why I am drawing attention to it here. How do you collect the views of young people on current transport services?

Mr Warneford: We do not actively go out and survey them as a specific group. We obviously collect lots of information back through our general market research. You asked were we familiar with the Bus Buddies in the North East, and the honest answer for me - and we are a North East operator - is not very familiar with it. I have heard about it and I have heard good things about it, but I donít know any more than that.

Q179 Mr. David Clelland: You do not take the needs of young people into account when you are planning your services?

Mr Warneford: I think it is not fair to say we do not take their needs into account.

Q180 Mr. David Clelland: You do? But if you have not assessed what their needs are, how do you take them into account?

Mr Warneford: Well, I think if we didnít take their needs into account we would not be carrying them. There is a certain long history of knowing where the demand is and what the requirements are, and that is what we seek to satisfy. It does change year on year.

Q181 Mr. David Clelland: Do you feel that local authorities take account of the effect of transport provision and the delivery of the Every Child Matters project, for instance? Is that part of the local authorityís thinking, young peopleís travel?

Mr Salmon: perhaps I can come in here. We have got two distinct roles as the industry. On the one hand we plan and deliver public bus services for everybody and on the other hand we are contractors to the local authorities both for specialised services carrying only school and college students and sometimes we are contracted for services which carry the whole of the public, and actually when you are planning routes - and it really doesnít matter whether it is us who is doing it or the local authority who is doing it - education movements are relatively easy because everybody has been through an admissions process, you know where they are going, you know where they live, so you have got a good start that you can plan where there are movements that you can cater for commercially with a bus service or, usually on the authorityís side, you can get sensible use of your resources because it is all quite predictable. But, of course, the flip side of the fact that you know where everybody is and where they are going is that you have got a tremendous churn, particularly when you get older into the college sector. Every two years it is all going to change over, so you have got to keep the planning alive.

Q182 Mr. David Clelland: What would be the effect on school travel, and indeed other services, if there were to be national concessionary fares for young people in full-time education?

Mr Warneford: Could I say no, thank you.

Q183 Mr. David Clelland: Can you expand on that?

Mr Warneford: We have not had a happy experience of concessionary fares with the elderly and I really donít want to go through that again.

Q184 Chairman: Can you tell us a bit more about that, Mr Warneford?

Mr Warneford: Well, it is not about school transport but the fairly public debate about the way in which the reimbursement mechanisms work for the elderly and disabled concession schemes are still very contentious, if I can put it that way.

Q185 Mr. David Clelland: You mean you are not making enough money out of it?

Mr Warneford: It is about the inconsistency of it. In some places, quite right, we donít make enough money out of it and we are having to put fares up and reduce services. In other authorities we do fine and we reach good agreements with them and they are happy and we are happy. It is totally inconsistent from authority to authority and there is no sign of a resolution.

Mr Fearnley: If I may continue and put the issues of reimbursement to one side. There would clearly be issues of capacity at certain times, which we would need to manage, and that is our job to manage that, that the reimbursement is fair, but there would possibly be some unintended consequences as well. Perhaps on a winterís evening, let us say, it might encourage large numbers of young people to travel by bus for something to do, to keep warm rather than possibly be on the streets, or whatever, which itself may create capacity issues and indeed may be an inhibitor of passengers travelling. So we have to look at it in the round, but in general we would handle and work to capacity issues if the reimbursement was fair.

Mr Daniels: If I might just add that by "concessionary", whether we mean free or at a lower cost, I think there is something about giving something for free that appears to have no value, to echo what has been said here before. So we are very keen not to see large numbers of children travelling free on our buses late at night, as we have seen in London, and making it difficult for ordinary users to use them.

Q186 Mr. David Clelland: But if the elderly are restricted to eight oíclock until seven oíclock at night, something like that, would that be different?

Mr Daniels: We would be pleased to see proposals for a system which provided a value, avoided the unintended consequences and gave us fair reimbursement for the journeys being made.

Q187 Mr. David Clelland: All right. Taking out of the argument for the moment the question of costs and who bears the costs and that sort of thing, what would be the impact on the public transport system of introducing such a scheme in terms of the capacity?

Mr Warneford: It is fairly inevitable that if we are talking about even just travel to and from school, or it could be wider than that, any reduction in price will automatically increase demand. If that demand is spread fairly evenly across the network and the times of day and we can absorb some of it, that would be a big advantage to the young people, to the operators, to society. If it is a huge increase in the peak demand, it could be very expensive and that would put pressure on everybody as to how it is affordable.

Mr Daniels: Could I just say there is a compelling case for staggering school start and finish times and this applies to both the requirements for dedicated school transport as well as travel on the public bus network. Our experience in the USA, where there are extensively staggered school, times, is that the dedicated school buses are able to do two or three return trips, which makes the provision of dedicated school services far more efficient than it does with just one return trip. Equally, on the public bus network we already have cases of overcrowding in the morning peak as people who are travelling to work and travelling to school clash together and the availability of staggered school times again helps us smooth that peak and helps us deliver it not only more comfortably but also more efficiently.

Q188 Mr. David Clelland: How many of your services would be made commercially unviable if they were not being used by students and young people?

Mr Fearnley: I donít think any of us would have that statistic available. Clearly there would be a number of services which became non-commercial as a result, indeed there would be some services supported by local authorities under tender to themselves which would be much more costly to procure. It would have a significant effect. The bus network is built up over the day, over the whole balance of users, and each one is integral to the commercial viability of that network.

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Q203 Mr. David Clelland: What if you can do both? Is it possible or even advisable, given what has been said about congestion, et cetera, to introduce the kinds of traffic regulations which go along with the yellow bus services in America?

Mr Daniels: The position is that to provide the sorts of safety traffic regulation features which exist in the US requires primary legislation, clearly. In the round what we would welcome is a review as to whether buses used on school services should form a particular special category inside the classification of buses and coaches which would allow Government to consider the safety features, the provision of seatbelts, roll-over strengths and also at the same time allow for the inclusion of special features which would not normally be allowed on ordinary buses and coaches, which could be used to improve safety in the vicinity of the school bus itself.

Q204 Mr. David Clelland: What effect is that likely to have on traffic movement, because in America what happens is the bus stops, the kids get off and all the traffic stops.

Mr Daniels: I am very carefully not advocating specifically that we should have the American "You must not pass this bus whilst it is overtaking" rules here in the UK. What I am saying is that it would be possible for the Government to review all of the features which could pertain specially to school buses only that would allow, for example, issues whereby school buses are caught by the disability discrimination regulation rules, issues to do with the number of passengers being carried and all the safety features as well. But, for the record, I am not specifically advocating worsening congestion by introducing stop signs on British school buses.

Mr Warneford: In response to Mr Clelland, as it happens only last week my boss, Mr Souter, and I had exactly that discussion about should the Government pass legislation to prevent people overtaking a school bus. The problem is, you cannot define a school bus. Does that mean every bus at school times?

Q205 Mr. David Clelland: Well, we are certainly not talking about yellow buses here, are we, because that would be quite obvious?

Mr Warneford: But then you would have to ignore the vast majority of children not travelling on the yellow buses, so there is a really complicated issue there.

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Q214 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Warneford said that the Local Transport Bill was silent on the matter, but obviously the Local Transport Bill as drafted at the moment - it is due to come back to the House in a couple of weeksí time - has implications for the relationship between bus companies and local authorities and I think what we would like to know is what is your view on the impact of the Bill in terms of relationships. Will it help or hinder?

Mr Warneford: If you would like me to answer that, Chairman. It is not particularly a school transport issue.

Q215 Mr. David Clelland: It is an issue about the relationship between you because the local authorities will have a view on school transport and the Transport Bill may very well give them powers to help influence that.

Mr Warneford: I can give you a very simple response. Where public transport is most successful in the UK is where we are already working as partners with the local authority. I think most people would accept that as given and that is in the majority of cases. Will the Bill help that? I donít think it will make any difference to that, because if we are already working together to the same end why would we need legislation to make us work together? For those areas where relationships are perhaps more strained occasionally, I think it will be unhelpful. It pushes both local authorities and operators towards very unhelpful litigation rather than pushing us to work together better, which is what we would really like to be doing.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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