For many parents a round trip of an hour or more, in rush hour traffic, at each end of the school day simply isn’t a feasible, let alone attractive, prospect. Children cannot drive themselves to school so, until autonomous vehicles become mainstream, public transport is the only option.
With many parents nervous about sending young children on lengthy bus and train journeys unaccompanied, and local authority cutbacks leaving many affluent rural areas without any public transport at all, independent schools must invest in proactively enhancing their accessibility.
An efficient, well-planned and competently managed school transport service differentiates a school from its competitors. For many families, the lack of such a service would totally exclude a school from consideration. It is for this reason that a growing number of independent schools choose to invest significant subsidies into providing dedicated school transport to its pupils. However, many have yet to take advantage of the latest technological developments to plan, manage and deliver this transport.
Technology can help
The benefits of technology can be realised before a passenger has even set foot on their bus. Peter Nathanail, director of school transport technology firm Vectare, explains: “School bus networks tend to be based on historical demand patterns, with stops introduced to meet historic parental requests but not removed when no longer required. There’s a lot of scope for schools to be more strategic with their route planning and get better value for money from their investment in transport while also delighting parents and pupils with more direct services, targeted to where pupils actually live.”
New software now on the market can quickly and easily map out a school’s bus routes, alongside rail and public bus services, current school bus passengers and also existing pupils not yet using a bus. These data visualisation techniques allow a school to consider and revise their bus routes as a single transport network; better than making tweaks to individual routes without looking at the overall picture.
There’s a lot of scope for schools to be more strategic with their route planning and get better value for money from their investment in transport while also delighting parents and pupils with more direct services, targeted to where pupils actually live
Going paperless to cut admin costs
A simple online booking system can also be a real boon for a school because it takes away the burden of processing bookings and payments, and preparing lists of passengers. An automated system also makes it easier to sell unoccupied seats on school buses to occasional passengers, providing parents with flexibility and generating extra revenue from otherwise wasted capacity – thereby reducing the subsidy a school needs to invest in their buses.
Derbyshire-based HMC school Trent College have offered online bookings for the past three years through Vectare, and during this time they have seen a three-fold increase in the revenue generated from ad hoc passengers on their bus services, alongside improved knowledge about the service within their parent body.
Technology can increase parental confidence
An online booking system also makes it easy to tap into more new technology to enhance parental confidence in your bus service and deliver safeguarding benefits. School-organised transport is seen by parents as a way of extending the school’s role of ‘in loco parentis’ to cover the school run – but this brings its own challenges.
Increasingly schools are being encouraged to invest in systems that allow pupils to be registered as they get on and off a bus, with real time alerts and GPS vehicle tracking available to further reassure parents. Whilst this kind of technology does require a substantial investment, increasing competition in the education technology sector is driving down prices and encouraging innovation.
It is an exciting time for the wider transport industry, as new technology is increasingly helping to deliver real passenger benefits – and the independent school sector is well placed to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance their own bus, coach and minibus services. This will help schools to differentiate themselves from competitors and also encourage parents to choose a more sustainable, and convenient mode of transport for the school run.
Vectare is a specialist school transport management company, offering technology to plan, book, manage and track school bus services.
Vectare’s VecTive school transport management software won a gold award at the UK Bus Awards in November 2018, with the judges praising the “well thought out software” for achieving modal shift away from the car at peak times.
We also deliver training and undertake consultancy work, helping maintained and independent schools, FE colleges and bus operators to provide school transport services that offer a safe, efficient and attractive alternative to using the car.
To find out more, come and talk to us on stand 80 at HMC’s Autumn Conference 2019, from 30 September to 3 October 2019.