The Costs and Challenges of Changing the Specifications for School Transport in Scotland
4. UNDERSTANDING CURRENT STATUTORY PROVISION ACROSS SCOTLAND
Online Survey of Authorities and Operators
4.1 An online survey was distributed electronically to all 32 local authorities in Scotland, who in turn were asked to provide contact details of the bus operators with school transport contracts. In total, responses were received from 26 local authorities, 34 bus operators and an SPT response representing 11 local authorities, a number of whom had also replied directly. The combined responses provided data for a total of 29 [out of 32] local authorities. Appendix A contains a Microsoft Word version of the online survey, which was made generic across operators and authorities.
4.2 The values presented within this chapter are drawn from the survey, and may not necessarily match the corresponding values in the model base year (see Chapter 6) due to the response rates for different questions.
Profile of Schools and Pupils' Travel Needs by Region
4.3 Table 4.1 shows the total number of schools in each region, and those requiring statutory transport provision. Each area of Scotland requires significant levels of statutory school transport, with lower density areas of the Highland and Islands and North East Scotland requiring the highest levels of service, 82% and 81% respectively. Proportions drop across higher density areas of Scotland - Strathclyde and South West 69% and South East Scotland 54%.
|region||schools||Total No. Schools Requiring Statutory School Transport||% of schools requiring statutory school transport|
|Highlands and Islands||406||384||82%|
|Strathclyde and South West||823||731||69%|
|Tayside and Central||260||203||78%|
4.4 Across the 26 authorities who responded on how entitlement to statutory school transport is determined, the majority (18) require parents to make a request and for an eligibility assessment to be undertaken. Four authorities proactively informed parents of their child's eligibility, whilst the remaining four used a mixture of both parents and authorities leading the process.
4.5 Eligibility criteria are not uniform across Scotland, but all are based on a combination of age and distance. Variants include:
- using the primary/secondary school distinction to determine eligibility instead of the eight years age threshold;
- lower thresholds of 1 mile maximum walking distance for primary school pupils, and two miles for secondary school pupils; and
- lower thresholds of 1 mile maximum walking distance for those aged 8 and under, and two miles for those aged 8 and over.
4.6 In addition to those pupils deemed eligible for statutory travel, the majority of authorities open up school transport services to non-eligible pupils, termed 'privilege' pupils. Table 4.2 shows that authorities are split roughly 50:50 between those who charge a fare, and those who permit free travel for such pupils. A number of local authorities provided further details on the system they operate, West Lothian for example provides a combination of both, with some pupils paying a fare while others travel on a grace and favour basis. Shetland Council operates a system that pupils not eligible for school transport can apply to the Schools Service to access a vacant seat on an existing transport. If granted there is no fare levied. It should be noted that this arrangement may be revoked at any time should additional eligible pupils require these seats.
|region||Yes, with fare levied||Yes, with no fare levied||No||other|
|Highlands and Islands||0||2||0||2|
|Strathclyde and South West||3||5||1||0|
|Tayside and Central||2||1||1||0|
4.7 Authorities were asked both how many pupils were deemed eligible for statutory school transport, and how many actually availed themselves of the services. The two numbers, when provided on a consistent basis, exhibited a high degree of correlation - a reflection of the fact that parents have to request provision for the majority of authorities. Table 4.3 provides a summary of the total number of pupils by establishment who avail themselves of statutory school transport provision, for 29 [out of 32] authorities.
|region||School Type||statutiory requirement pupils||privilege pupils - free||Privilege pupils - fare paid|
|Highlands and Islands||Primary||1,553||7||60|
|Strathclyde and South West||Primary||13,503||985||47|
|Tayside and Central Scotland||Primary||2,091||69||94|
School Transport Contracts and Stipulations
Type of Contracts
4.9 Table 4.4 shows the minimum, maximum and average length of school transport contracts by region. The results indicate that nearly all existing contracts, barring a small number of recently awarded seven year contracts, are likely to have expired by 2017/18. From consultation with authorities, the choice of contract length is a trade-off between providing a degree of stability to operators, pupils and schools, and ensuring that competition is maintained.
|Highlands and Islands||3||5||4|
|Strathclyde and South West||2||5||3|
|Tayside and Central||3||4||3|
4.10 Table 4.5 details the estimated average contract value per pupil per day of travel. Contract values are particularly high in the North East of Scotland, this could be due to the rural nature of the area and distances required to transport pupils. Contract values are greatly reduced in the more densely populated areas of Scotland. It should be noted that these areas will have a larger proportion of operators, as some contracts are currently awarded on price, competition may be partly responsible for driving down contract values.
|Highlands and Islands||3.0||7.0||4.1|
|Strathclyde and South West||2.0||6.0||3.6|
|Tayside and Central||5.0||7.0||6.0|
4.11 An important consideration when attempting to determine the cost implications of a change in stipulations is the 'bundling' or 'packaging' of contracts on the part of authorities to try and gain economies of scale and efficiency savings. Given the nature of school transport provision, this could be the packaging of different dedicated school routes or the combination of multiple tendered services in a given area. Across 26 responding local authorities:
- three authorities issue packages on all their contracts;
- 10 authorities do this for selected services; and
- 13 only tender for individual services.
4.12 Contract packaging is most common within the Strathclyde and South West area, with the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) managing contracts for all local authorities in this area except Dumfries and Galloway.
4.13 Figure 4.4 shows the extent to which school transport vehicles are deployed on other services throughout the day. The majority of other uses relate to other education-related travel or for commercial private hire. A small number of 'other' responses were received for this question. East Lothian use vehicles for charitable hires and support of the local community, whilst East Dunbartonshire, Aberdeenshire and Midlothian sometimes use vehicles for other Local Authority purposes.
4.14 Education authorities already deploy a number of different stipulations on contracts - some on all contracts for a given school type, and some only on selected contracts. These are diverse across authorities and include:
- specific vehicles must be used, e.g. single deck, potentially with add-ons such as seatbelts must be provided;
- vehicles can be drawn from the general fleet, but must have seatbelts;
- wheelchair accessible vehicles to be provided where necessary;
- monitors to be provided on double deck vehicles;
- CCTV on vehicles carrying more than 16 pupils; and
- minimum, and in a much smaller number of cases maximum, number of seats
- minimum number of seats is commonly stipulated, and, related to this, specific vehicle type stipulation is also relatively commonplace;
- only a few authorities stipulate a maximum age of the vehicle to be used, and even fewer place a stipulation on the emissions standards/engine type;
- seatbelt stipulation is already relatively widespread, and this is a mixture of lap and three point provision, sometimes linked to the type of vehicle deployed; and
- low-floor accessibility is stipulated on only a small number of contracts [assumed to be on an 'as required' basis] whilst CCTV is seldom a stipulation. However, whilst both are not widely stipulated, we would expect their presence on the home to school transport fleet to become more widespread as vehicles filter through from the general service fleet.
4.16 Figure 4.7 shows the proportionate presence of any driver stipulations on school transport contracts. Disclosure Scotland checks are applied nearly universally, whilst the remainder are applied for some or all contracts. Driver stipulations are much more widespread than stipulations on the type of vehicle and its attributes.