School travel (HC 911-iii)
Transport Committee 22 Oct 2008
Uncorrected transcript of Oral Evidence given by
2.45 Sustrans Paul Osborne, School Travel Director Living Streets, Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive Yellow School Bus Commission, Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP, Chairman Councillor, Lt Col Tex Pemberton OBE, Commissioner, Dr Siān Thornthwaite, Dr Siān Thornthwaite, Independent Consultant.
3.40 Rural 14-19 Access to Learning Group, Mark Hudson, Head of Transport. Mary Roche, Transport Policy manager, Association of Colleges, Dr David Collins, Resident, and Principal of South Cheshire College, RAC Foundation, Elizabeth Dainton, Research Development Manager
4.20 National Youth Agency, Viv McKee, Director of Policy and Research, National Childrens Bureau, Barbara Hearn, Deputy Chief Executive, National Union of Students, Beth Walker, Vice President (Further Education).
Q226 Mr. David Clelland: Do dedicated bus schemes necessarily offer the best potential for substantial modal shift?
Mr Blunkett: They do in the sense that firstly you can design them specifically for the purpose and, therefore, you can cut down the running costs of the bus, which was what was demonstrated very clearly in the United States. Secondly, because they are designed not just for to and from school or college but actually for work during the school day as well, which we think would be very important, you can have a design that meets all of those requirements. Thirdly, you are not, which is what we have got in too many places at the moment, using pretty second-rate, very elderly transport for children. Children in our country are treated less well than other commuters. The Government's policy on travel for retired people is superb and the Government's policy in terms of investing in commuter transport for major cities is maybe ---
Q227 Graham Stringer: Less than superb.
Mr Blunkett: --- on the edge of superb, but for our small commuters we spend only 4% of the total spend on public transport and we have neglected them.
Q228 Mr. David Clelland: To what extent do the yellow bus services benefit only those people who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen a school that is not in their own local area?
Mr Blunkett: They inevitably benefit at the moment those who are at greater distances. Our proposal is one to five miles for primary and two miles-plus for secondary. We believe that is a sensible balance between encouraging walking and cycling, getting people on the bus, but not encouraging people to believe the sky is the limit. Incidentally, in terms of recommendations on the Pathfinders, which have been delayed, we felt it was sensible, if we could persuade an area to do so, to take a deep breath and start from scratch. In other words, would we do what we do now if we were starting from here. Although that is difficult in politics, we think it is worth experimenting to see whether a charge that was relevant to the income and the well-being of the parents and the child would be more beneficial than what we have had in the past.
Q229 Mr. David Clelland: How would you encourage people who are travelling shorter distances to walk or cycle rather than using a car?
Mr Blunkett: You would not get the facility if under a mile at primary and under two miles at secondary, and bear in mind that is each way. You could if the school transport co-ordinator and the local transport co-ordinator in the plans that are put together make this a big offer. I just commend the Living Streets initiative because they have been doing that with travel being part of the offer at school level where the education process is part of learning about life and personal well-being and health but also the health of the planet.
Q247 Mr. David Clelland: How well do school travel services and school transport services work together?
Councillor Lieutenant Colonel Pemberton: Can I say very well actually. School travel services and school transport services work well together because we have tended to amalgamate them and bring them into one co-ordinated cell. Certainly in my authority that is the arrangement. It was not at first but it is now, I can assure you. They are hand-in-glove in working together on arrangements and using and exploiting every opportunity to give the best possible service at the cheapest cost, but a quality service will always cost money of course.
Q248 Mr. David Clelland: So you would recommend bringing them together as best practice?
Councillor Lieutenant Colonel Pemberton: Absolutely. We have done it and I would be delighted to demonstrate it to any other authority in the country as an example of how it does work.
Q249 Mr. David Clelland: What about government departments, how good are government departments in working together to ensure a joined-up approach to school travel strategies?
Mr Blunkett: The new Bill will help a little here because local authorities as a whole will have a better grip and handle on regulation and, I believe, will start to take in the local School Travel Plans as a serious part of what they are doing. The real challenge because of the independence of schools whichever particular mode they are, whether county or foundation or academies, is they can choose to do whatever they wish, so it is quite important that the local authority itself has got a grip on this and is co-ordinating what is happening at the school level with what they want to see across the authority and with the PTEs in metropolitan areas.
Mr Osborne: The Sustainable Travel to School Strategies that local authorities have been submitting has been a real step forward and also the target for journeys to school in the Local Area Agreements is a sign of joined-up working. The school travel advisers in many local authorities have been a key force for joining up the work of departments and making sure that the physical activity agenda is associated with the anti-congestion agenda and things like that. One area where there is a lot of room for work to be done is building schools for the future. We have got education authorities putting forward developments, major schools, putting investment into the structure, the building itself, but no funding is going into the infrastructure supporting how children get to school. That is an area where, bearing in mind the scale of the programme that the country is about to enter into, it is really important we see a significant investment in making sure that not only are the buildings efficient but the way children travel to school is efficient and encouraging first and foremost those children who can walk and cycle into healthy physical activity.
Q250 Mr. David Clelland: We heard an example of best practice in terms of local government departments working together. Are there any examples of best practice with government departments working together in this area?
Mr Armstrong: The focus on School Travel Plans is a good one where the onus has been on local authorities to join-up internally around their own planning. There are increasing signs of good practice in terms of the focus of the DCSF and DH jointly running the obesity strategy and working closely with DfT on that. There are very promising signs. We do have some concerns about what happens when the ring-fenced funding related to School Travel Planning ends in 2010 because, as yet, there are no signs as to what is going to happen. Where School Travel Plans have really been embedded in what is happening in a local authority, where they have linked strategies, such as the Healthy Schools Programme, they have done good things in terms of creating modal shift and promoting walking and cycling. Where it has not worked so well is where a plan has just been done, it has been a tick-box exercise and you have not got that ongoing investment and commitment. I fear that post-2010 unless we have got a strategy in place now, some of the improvements that we have seen will fall away.
Councillor Lieutenant Colonel Pemberton: Could I just add to that. We agree with Living Streets in promoting answers, and promote cycling and walking within our report, but the difference is the distance. The Safer Routes to School Programme is fantastic because schools genuinely do work hard to do this with Walking Buses and so on, and of course there are financial rewards from Government which we hope, as Living Streets have just said, will continue because a primary school can get £5,000 and a secondary school £10,000. With that money they are building cycling sheds and cycling areas, so they can put their cycles in secure areas. We want that to continue so they have the finances to promote that and are spending that money on safer routes to school, and we encourage them and help them to do so.
Q265 Mr. David Clelland: What would be the effect on school travel if we had a national concessionary fare scheme for children and young people?
Dr Collins: I think it is an excellent idea, particularly in the college sector. One of the problems we have in the 16-19 age frame is the inconsistency across local authorities. A national scheme, preferably free, would be very much appreciated by our sector.
Ms Roche: I think it would help tremendously. If you ask young people themselves, and I think you would know through the work of the North-East Regional Youth Assembly, they say in their own words that public transport has a massive impact on young people's life choices and if we were to promote public transport for young people that would promote social inclusion and give them better and bigger opportunities in life.
Mr Hudson: Our own research with young people, with the Young People's Parliament in Nottinghamshire, showed they were crying out for a concessionary fare scheme, but they were also saying a pass or concessionary scheme is only good for them if there is a public transport service available, so you have to weigh those two. It is all right having a pass or scheme but you need the service to use it.
Q266 Mr. David Clelland: That brings me nicely on to the next question. Do you think the public transport system will be able to cope with the increased numbers that would be using the system if there were a concessionary scheme of that sort?
Mr Hudson: In urban areas where there are major networks of services perhaps capacity would cope, but in less sparse areas or deep rural areas there may be difficulties especially around peak times. That could cost local authorities substantial money in putting in new infrastructure and new vehicles. Providing the funding is there to meet that challenge that is fine, but at the moment, the way the funding sits, if there were major costs borne by the local authorities then that could create some difficulties.
Q267 Mr. David Clelland: Presumably some of the existing public transport services benefit from travel by students and young people? How many of those do you think would become unviable if it was not for students and young people using them?
Mr Hudson: In rural areas and most of the rural counties in England the college services and school services work jointly with the local bus networks for efficiency and best value. If students did not travel and they ended up on dedicated services or transferred to cars, that would make many local bus services, especially in my area, inefficient and we might lose services to communities, especially communities that have no other option of travel.
Q268 Mr. David Clelland: In urban areas, if we had a concessionary fare scheme for students, would that have a significant impact on modal shift?
Mr Hudson: I think those are the two issues. In urban areas it would create modal shift providing the capacity is there and would reduce congestion and pollution, CO2, et cetera. In rural areas it is a different issue, it is about access for young people to learning and training and making sure that the services are there so that young people are not having to travel between two and three hours a day to access learning.
Q269 Mr. David Clelland: What about the effect on other passengers?
Mr Hudson: I think that is a bit of a red herring myself. We should give young people social training at an early age on how to use public transport and make sure that they can integrate with other people who are using the services. The Foundation probably referred to the problems that have been associated with the London free scheme where they have had behaviour problems and I do not think that extends that badly outside the London area.
Q270 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think it is necessary to have a national scheme or would a regional scheme suffice in terms of colleges and schools?
Mr Hudson: One of the things we found in our research that we completed in July 2007 was there is a postcode lottery on support for young people and transport. We feel that a national scheme would be appropriate but that model needs to suit both urban and rural learners. In urban areas you will find that the commercial bus operators are providing incentives, low fares, season cards, and there are already half-fare schemes or one-third schemes for young people up to 14 but we need to get that into the 14-19 age bracket.
Dr Collins: Travel to college does not necessarily fit in with regional boundaries.
Q271 Mr Martlew: Or national boundaries.
Dr Collins: Or, indeed, national boundaries.
Ms Roche: The danger with going for a regional scheme is you will have the same problems you have now in terms of the disparity between local authorities and the costs.
Q272 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Hudson just mentioned the concessions already available from commercial providers, but do you think that commercial providers ought to be working more closely together so that students and young people can use more than one provider rather than be stuck with just the one?
Mr Hudson: Hopefully the arrangements in the Local Transport Bill will help us towards ticketing and integrated fares. We are not allowed to do that at the moment because the Office of Fair Trading would come down on us like a ton of bricks. I think in most areas you will find that local authorities work with all the operators in their area to get the best deal for young people.
Q273 Mr Martlew: Can I just come back to the issue that Mr Hudson and the lady from the RAC raised, the question of behaviour on public transport. I do not know what your experience is but it is certainly different from mine. What we have now is more pensioners travelling on buses because of the concessionary fare. I am finding out as I get older I am less tolerant and what we have is a load of boisterous youngsters. I am not talking about the students, probably early secondary. The reality is that you will stand at a bus stop and you will hear pensioners say, "I'm not catching that bus" or "I'm going to go earlier". That is the reality. It may be that there is not a solution but it is a major issue and anybody who talks to pensioners' groups will tell you that. It is their grandchildren in many cases; not individually, but you know what I mean. There is this clash, and it is becoming an increasing clash, with concessionary fares. It is no good just saying we should teach them how to behave, Mr Hudson, it does not happen. There is a problem and you have got to accept there is a problem.
Dr Collins: There is a difference between the post-16 population that can be treated as adults and, indeed, the college would have the right to throw them out of courses if they were not behaving properly, and the pre-16 scenario. I think a 16-19 national concessionary scheme would be extremely welcome.
Ms Roche: In many local authorities, as it is in Norfolk at the moment, we have excellent travel training schemes which are particularly geared to young people with difficulties or disabilities. Those travel training schemes do address behaviour in a very, very comprehensive way and you will find that any of the young people who have undertaken those schemes in our area are very polite and very well-behaved on buses. Perhaps it is an opportunity to roll that out in all of the school population but, again, it is a funding issue for local authorities to do that.
Q274 Mr. David Clelland: Is it a general view that a national scheme ought to be restricted to the 16-19 age group and perhaps local schemes for schoolchildren?
Mr Hudson: I think a national scheme should be 14-19 so that it aligns itself with the new agenda on learning and new developments in apprenticeships and everything else. Going back to the behaviour point, what we tend to find is that elderly people travel after 9.30 after young people have gone to school and, like you say, in the afternoon they avoid the services between 3.30 and 4.30. We are trying to deal with that through campaigns like Respect for Transport.
Q293 Mr. David Clelland: The North East Youth Assembly developed a project which they called the Bus Buddies Project - you might have heard of it - and they did a lot of research into facilities for young people and services for young people in terms of buses and they approached the bus operators and transport providers and did get some changes made, particularly in terms of driver training for instance. In your experience, do you think operators take sufficient account of the needs and views of young people when they are planning their transport services?
Mr Hudson: I think in the urban areas they do and there are lots of good schemes. If you look at Brighton & Hove they have a commercially funded concessionary travel scheme for young people and in the major areas, the PTE areas, there are low fares and good services. In the other county areas it is normally a partnership arrangement between the local authorities and the operators to design the networks and think of all age ranges of people that are going to use them, and how we encourage them to use them, which is a major issue, but again it comes back, whether it be 14 to 19 or 16 to 19 or age five, to the funding and the responsibilities. I do not think there is a clear national framework and national minimum standards to ensure that we deliver the minimum offer to young people.
Q294 Mr. David Clelland: Do you think that local authorities take the effect of transport provision on the delivery of the five Every Child Matters outcomes sufficiently into account?
Ms Roche: We do take it into account but we are experiencing very difficult times in terms of external cost pressures and therefore we tend to meet the statutory obligations and not much more beyond that. We are a bit more generous in terms of the discretion we use for our post-16 policies because experience and research tells us that if you do not give young people a choice at post-16 then it affects the retention of those young people in education. If they are doing a course at a place they do not like or doing a course that is not particularly of their choice, then they will drop out. We are very, very conscious that choice is extremely important at that level and we try to support that so we have extended provision there.
Mr Hudson: One good point from the 2006 Education and Inspections Act was the requirement for local authorities to produce sustainable travel strategies, but I think that has been very piecemeal. Some authorities have done it well; some authorities stick two pages of A4 on the web site and think they have done it, and that is where the Every Child Matters should be included within those strategies.
Dr Collins: I would have thought that transport was an area where local authorities and colleges would welcome a restriction of their freedom to act independently and would appreciate a nationally devised scheme.
Ms Roche: Absolutely, we would love to have national standards and statutory obligations to provide this.
Q307 Mr. David Clelland: Would you be in favour of a national concessionary fare scheme for children and young people?
Ms Walker: Yes I would. Can I just quickly go back to the last question. I think rather than demonising young people - and it really is a small minority of students that have got anti-social behaviour - we should look at constructive solutions on how to improve this. Firstly, I do not think you are going to dispel this anxiety of anti-social behaviour by segregating students and keeping them on different buses at different times and things like that. London has a really good example of the fact that if you do not behave and you continue to flout your behaviour they will take your bus pass away from you. Ways like that should be the way forward in my eyes.
Q308 Mr. David Clelland: Back to my question about concessionary fare schemes, would you be in favour of a national concessionary fare scheme for children and young people?
Ms McKee: I would certainly be in favour of a national age for concessionary fares. If a scheme was bought in nationally - and I am not a local authority but I am well aware that the local authorities and the LGA are concerned about the impact of older adult concessionary fares - thought needs to be given to the phasing of that. I think there is a place for a piece of research that has not been undertaken which looks at the short-term use of resources to improve transport for young people and its impact on improving demand by the community over time.
Q309 Mr. David Clelland: Should such a scheme for instance be restricted to travel to and from school and college if you had a concessionary scheme?
Ms McKee: I think it should be restricted to appropriate use of positive activities as well. The Government's agenda for young people includes positive activities and formal learning and research shows that it is important that young people engage in these and I would have it for the ages of 14 to 19.
Q310 Chairman: Ms Walker, do you want to add anything?
Ms Walker: Personally I think that it might be problematic if you link it just to travelling to your college because, going back to things such as apprenticeships and diplomas, students are not just studying in one educational establishment and it would be problematic for someone on an apprenticeship if they are expecting to use that public transport to get themselves around from A to B, so if you are on a plumbing apprentice to go and do your work, if you are being tied into only being able to use your public transport card to get yourself to college. The NUS's view is that concessionary public transport should be linked to an entitlement to learning. Obviously now there is an expectation that you can obtain a level 2 qualification and we believe that should be an entitlement to be matched with an entitlement to public transport concessions, and that also includes those who are returning back into second chance learning as well.
Q311 Mr. David Clelland: Should we perhaps have different schemes then? Should we have a yellow bus scheme for school children and then a concessionary fare scheme for the 14 to 19 age groups, something like that?
Ms Walker: With regards to people's timetables in further education they are quite sporadic as well so personally I do not know how that would work, but I am not the planner.
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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