Here’s an example of the dilemma facing operators and, in this case, Kent council at peak times. Complaints and petitions suggesting that the council supported 267 rural ramble between Hawkhurst and Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge is overloaded. It’s a dedicated school journey but a registered local bus service. It’s supposed to be full to the point where pupils are alleged to have to stand on the stairwell. But calls for change have come to nought because Kent has no funding to increase capacity.
Dilemma no. 2 is something you often find with regard to school transport. Pupils are illogical. Said a Kent spokesman, “I am satisfied the current arrangement is safe and robust and ensures all passengers are able to travel to their destinations”. What this says to me (though I may be wrong) is that the capacity of the vehicle isn’t actually being exceeded. By capacity, I mean this to include standing capacity. If pupils then chose to ignore advice and stand on the stairs (they shouldn’t) then that’s a matter for them and the operator. Policing it is rather more difficult.
One parent was moved to say, “We would not agree to travel to work this way”. No, I bet they wouldn’t. And, given the rural and wealthy nature of this area of Kent, I bet they don’t need to. Others are less fortunate. Here’s dilemma no. 4. Whether by train or bus, larger urban areas see regular standing passengers. It’s certainly true of the Network South East rail area which, of course, includes Kent. And I’d wager that in Manchester, Birmingham and London, school pupils and others regularly stand on road & rail vehicles. It’s accepted and part of the fabric. Rural populations tends to associate school transport with closed contract coaches, with a seat for everyone and seatbelts but this obviously isn’t true in every case. Perhaps expectations are different in rural areas.
“To make matters worse, the bus takes up to two and a half hours to complete its journey to Tunbridge Wells, frequently making the children late for school”. That’s one nightmare of a school transport journey. But in itself, this isn’t going to make children late. Traffic around Tonbridge & Tunbridge Wells probably is. Dilemma no. 5, then, is to set out 10 minutes earlier than the current 0649. Ouch. And, general congestion is a fickle thing. When light, it will mean pupils arriving earlier than they need to.
I don’t know the area but my guess is that those who travel at 0649 probably choose to do so rather than attend a more local school. Once the bus gets to Cranbrook, it’s relatively direct to Tunbridge Wells, though running times seem to reflect the reality of the roads and villages served. That’s dilemma no. 6. No one runs a bus slower than it needs to. Without using a helicopter to get to school, it’s somewhat unlikely that you can do much to speed up the bus.