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Displaying items by tag: transport

 Update: It has been suggested that the fall in take-up for the Kent Travel Pass is partly due to some families deciding not to send their children back to school at this time. It will soon become clear if this is a factor.  

Following on from the TUI holiday flight incident and the failure of passengers to follow rules, it is relevant to note the following

 Government statement: 'We do not expect drivers to police pupil behaviour. Their role is to focus on driving the vehicle safely' whilst KCC considers that 'Children travelling on these services will be required to wear face coverings for those over 11 and without an exemption'.

But from Stagecoach, one of the largest school contractors in Kent:  ‘Our drivers will not refuse travel or apply any enforcement measures, but we appeal to students and parents to ensure that this is taken seriously and that a face-covering is worn at all times when on the bus’.

It is not surprising that, partly as a result of this and partly through matters relating to social distancing, parental caution has seen the number of applications for the Kent travel passes fall by over half for September. Those for age 11-16 are down from around 24,000 normally to just 12,557 for September, with 16+ passes down from around 7,000 to 2,280. Most of the missing families will now be driving their children to school by car, swelling the road traffic considerably across the county at the two peak school times.

There is likely as a consequence to be travel chaos at peak periods particularly in areas where there are several secondary schools close together. Three towns spring to mind: Canterbury, Sittingbourne and Tunbridge Wells, but I am sure there are others. One can also add in schools served by narrow roads as explained in a previous article entitled The Coronavirus Effect on the 'School Run' in Kent, Part 2 which I wrote two weeks ago, and looks at the developing problems of getting children to school.  

I also look below at transport matters contained in new advice published by the government on Friday around 5.30 p.m. This sets fresh expectations for schools from the start of the new term, for many just five days in advance, including a weekend and a bank holiday. It contains 18 pages of advice, some wise and helpful, some very belated, some trivial and some patronising.  Finally, a look at Brockhill Park and Ebbsfleet Green Primary Schools. 

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Update 20th August: KCC has released a guide called: Returning to school using transport which summarises much that I have written below. Good news is that the Council:  have also been given funding to provide extra buses where we are worried about social distancing space. From the start of the new academic year, we expect over 80 extra buses to be running with fewer children on board. Therefore we are confident that there will be enough space. If there are any problems, then we will work to fix them by providing alternative transport (not quite the assurance given below)The Council will also be changing the classification of some services from public use to dedicated school transport (see below). 
This article builds on one I published on the same theme last week and follows the subsequent publication of yet another government policy document, as the government attempts to head off the coming crisis in school transport. It is becoming ever clearer that Kent is at the sharp end of this with its many rural, faith and grammar schools requiring an unusually large network of school transport. Parents, please note this article does not contain advice on what to do if you have problems with securing appropriate school transport - I am sorry but I am not able to provide any at present because of the lack of hard information. However, I would welcome any examples of potential problems. 

The A-Level and GCSE exams fiascos are already highlighting considerable incompetence at the Department for Education. The same department is exacerbating the transport issues by having too many vague, unrealistic and unexamined ideas being pumped out at short notice for others to implement, in an attempt to head off the crisis. This latest government document shows that the load and responsibility on school leaders to deliver all they are required to do is out of all proportion to the resources they have available, although I am sure they will give it their best shot. The large majority of parents whose children need to travel on school transport will be dismayed to see the inevitable gap between government pipe dreams and practice. My previous article referred to the knock-on traffic problems of a large increase in car journeys as families switch away from public transport, but the proposal for  ‘implementing ‘safe streets’ policies outside schools’, whilst welcome to many,  is surely fraught with difficulties if introduced in time for the start of term. 

At the other end of the scale: ‘At a national level, at least 50% of journeys to school of 2 miles or less, and which are currently undertaken by public bus, need to switch to cycling and walking in order to make capacity available for those with longer journeys’, which arrives from the ivory tower without any clues as to how the obligation is to be achieved. 

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Further article here following new Advice from the Government

Updated again 14th August, looking at the provision of bus services for 'The School Run' - and probably more to come in a fast-changing situation.

Government Policy
'It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term'.

Government Advice
'We expect that public transport capacity will continue to be constrained in the autumn term. Its use by pupils, particularly in peak times, should be kept to an absolute minimum'. 
' I am asking every staff member and student to plan now how they will get to school or college. If it is possible to walk or cycle, please do' (Secretary of State for Education)

I wholeheartedly support the government policy principle of encouraging all pupils to return to school in September, and those schools are working incredibly hard to deliver it. However, one of the many intractable Covid-19 related challenges facing some secondary schools and families when re-opening in September is that of pupil transport. Many Kent schools are especially vulnerable, for the county is rural in places with pupils having to travel long distances to their nearest school, and faith and grammar schools will also have pupils who travel considerable distance by public transport. Most readers will have seen or encountered the publicly accessible double-decker buses packed with pupils on their way to and from school in the past, but this won’t be the situation in September. For social distancing rules reduce the number of passengers on each bus by up to two thirds and there are not the spare buses at peak school times to compensate by increasing numbers.

We are now just three weeks away from the start of term and there is no sign of a solution to the potential transport chaos from too few buses and too many cars on the road at peak times. The government has recently released two documents covering the challenges, but with few solutions apart from £40 million in new (?) money mainly to enable students to use unidentified alternatives to public transport (answers on a postcard please!), and keeping fit by cycling, walking or using a scooter. KCC considers that: ‘the financial impact on bus services and operators has been significant so it could be that more services than usual are subject to change or cancellation. In addition, at the moment, operators are only able to let about half of the usual numbers of passengers on their buses and if this remains the case, then providing enough space for all passengers could (!) be a problem, and so students that can travel in a different way should do so at the moment’. This will inevitably have major knock-on effects, with a sharp increase in private traffic on the roads at key times. I have looked at several possible flashpoints below.

There is no doubt that unless there are considerable improvements to what is currently on offer, too many pupils will regularly miss large parts of the school day, with some not being able to make school at all.  It is difficult to see what they can do in the face of government threats to fine families whose children do not attend. However, they will not be alone as others will be in quarantine, or come from families simply frightened of the consequences of children mixing with others during the pandemic, which can of course peak again by then perhaps in local clusters. 

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PLEASE NOTE: This article has been superseded, following pressure from parents leading to a further change of mind by KCC. You will find the new article here

Present Situation

Currently KCC operates a Freedom Pass for young people 11-16 costing £100, which offers free bus transport throughout the county any number of times, at all times of day. Introduced in 2007, this is unique outside London and has been greatly valued by young people. In Medway, travel support for young people is limited to half the adult fare.

It is an addition to the provision for free school transport for children up to Year 11 to their nearest appropriate school for transport purposes if they live more than three miles away (for over 8 year olds); or two miles away (for under 8 year olds). The “for transport purposes” term means that free transport to grammar schools will only be offered if it is the nearest mainstream school of any type. For details go to free transport. (In passing what if free school transport is only available to the nearest Free School, perhaps one with a strange religious philosophy?).   

However, the Council is under extreme pressure to save money, and so has now agreed to change in principle to a much reduced scheme for the Freedom Pass from September 2014  – however one that is still more generous than in many parts of the country. Further, following the third successful “e-petition” to the County Council, a version of the scheme is proposed for over sixteen year olds, who currently only receive a  travel pass costing £520 that provides a small overall subsidy for those travelling on a regular basis


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