What I learnt about School Transport

Interchangeability 2014 is a unique conference bringing together educators, transport providers and creative thinkers to find ways to reduce spend on school transport yet ensure children get to school safely, and in a frame of mind that enables them to learn effectively.

The organisers have put a tremendous amount of thought into every aspect of this conference and it shows. The atmosphere is relaxed, open, friendly and engaging. The audience and speakers come from a very wide and diverse backgrounds, all interested in how their experiences can relate and enhance those of others.  I wondered just what this conference experience would teach me about school transport and whether any of it is relevant to highways design and maintenance.
Here’s what others thought of the first day:
Here’s a little of what I discovered on Day 1:

Joined up thinking for the community

I learnt that there is less money available to deliver school transport via buses and taxi, so finding alternative modes of transport, or different business models for running school buses is essential.  BUT this requires much closer co-ordination between transport planning, land use planning and school planning to provide safe routes for walking and cycling.

It also requires co-ordination between schools and public transport services to ensure sufficient bus services are available.  Additional services that support school children also benefit the wider community.

Culture, Behaviours and Fears

I learnt that although many parents are fearful of their children travelling in ways other than dedicated bus / taxi / family car, the knock on effects of using public transport, cycling or walking on children’s ability and confidence using public transport, road safety awareness, health, and their ability to learn at school is significant.

These are life skills that will change how people move around in the future which is important, as many elderly people today, being without car for the first time in their lives, are having to use public transport and find it confusing and stressful.

Inclusion vs Exclusion

I learnt that for children with special needs, they and their families can choose to have Independent Travel Training, which gives them the opportunity to get to and from school themselves.  The freedom and independence this gives makes such a tremendous difference to their lives and their families, enabling them to live happier lives getting out and about by themselves rather than relying on support from others.

Greater independence and safe ways to travel learnt at school in turn helps reduce the reliance on some Adult Social Care services in future years.  Leeds City Council are leading the way in redesigning their school transport services for children with special needs, and their case study was both fascinating and compelling.

Bullying, Tolerance and Acceptance

I learnt that bullying can be a huge problem, which is often under-reported and not dealt with effectively.  The need to integrate education as an integral part of the travel to school experience is long overdue, and maybe the move to give schools greater control and responsibility for organising their own transport may help with this.  Yet this will raise its own challenges in terms of engaging and liaising with transport providers who don’t understand the educational perspective, and schools who don’t understand the transport perspectives.

Integrating children as part of the wider community by their use of public transport, cycling and walking to and from school are valuable community building skills.  BUT it demands greater tolerance, respect and understanding by both children (mainstream and special needs) and transport providers to ensure behaviours are appropriate and don’t negatively impact on the health and well being of other passengers or the driver.

Highways, Transport and Education…?

I had no idea there was so much overlap between local highways authorities and education.   I think this is the first time I’ve seen how decisions on local roads and transport really affect people’s lives.  Given local highways authorities are so keen to understand what people need, this is a fantastic starting point to explore this further.

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