Bus Open Data for schools gets slated

An on-line event to bring operators up to speed with the implementation of BODS at the end of this month heard all of the arguments on why this is a very bad idea for home-to-school services

Two Department for Transport representatives found themselves in a war of words with operators in an on-line meeting this week (9 December) as they explained the Bus Open Data Service (BODS).

The on-line forum which began with an explanation of how bus operators can contribute timetable, ticket and bus location data to BODS quickly transformed into a bitter exchange of views about why BODS should not encompass home-to-school transport services (BODS to slam into home-to-school).

The session, chaired by KPMG Assistant Manager, Ben Murray, with Lisa Gouveia, Bus Open Data Policy Advisor for the DfT, was aimed at seeking the views of operators… and succeeded in getting them. At the core of criticism were home-to-school operators with registered services, which BODS is insisting provide timetable, ticketing and passenger data by 31 December and, by 7 January, real-time vehicle location data.

The inclusion of school bus data is unnecessary and potentially dangerous, said operators. Facing the point that the public would gain no benefit from knowing the timetables and location of closed services, Lisa Gouveia said: “They wouldn’t have to submit the data if they didn’t register a school service under the true sense of Section 6…if it was voluntary.”

When asked how the Traffic Area Office would know which service registration was voluntary and which statutory, Lisa said she didn’t know, and would take this thought away to find an answer.

Tetleys Coaches of Leeds asked why there had been such a fundamental change – the DfT earlier this year specifically excluded ‘dedicated school services’ from the requirement to submit to BODS – and Ben Murray said: “I understand there’s been some confusion. We didn’t know that some school services have been voluntarily registered. We will not be enforcing BODS until the end of 2021.”

Lisa Gouveia suggested that open data for school buses would help schools produce apps so children knew which bus to catch and when it arrived. Operators pointed out that the children are already given this information, and that some operators already have apps: “We weren’t aware of that,” she said. “We are now working with our lawyers to understand that.”

Georgina Bates of Scotland & Bates asked the meeting: “How can you be certain this data won’t get into the wrong hands? And giving this information to the public will not be useful because the public will not be able to travel on school buses?”

Ben Murray said he believed that issue may be resolved by the software, which gave operators the opportunity to mark it as a ‘closed service’ but he admitted that, even so, the timetable and vehicle location data would be available: “With these mechanisms we are learning more about how we will get the controls right,” he added.

Kathryn Pulham, of Pulhams Coaches, said she could see BODS making home-to-school transport worse and less safe: “Most coach operators have school services as part of their business in which fares are taken, and so will have to be registered services. But punctuality is not as important as it is with open bus services, because we know every child who is boarding, and where. Not every stop is served, because we know when children are absent from school or not boarding.

“As a result, the service will be on a different route because it won’t be stopping at stops where nobody will board. This will cause punctuality concerns at the Traffic Area Office.”

Ben Murray suggested that services can have an abbreviated registration with start and end point timings only, though an operator said he believed that those points cannot be more than ten minutes apart.

John Burch, regional manager for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, asked why the DfT has made Section 22 Community Bus services exempt: “People are running whole town networks with Section 22 permits. They are all registered services.”

Robert Lodge, of Lodges Coaches of Essex, said: “If this goes ahead, we will need to have tracking on every vehicle, which has a capital cost and monthly running cost. Who will pay? We haven’t had a school bus price increase since 2008. Will we have help with this from the DfT?” Lisa Gouveia replied that the cost could be mitigated by claiming BSOG, until several operators including Alan Peters of A Bus pointed out that BSOG is not claimable on school services.

John Burch, regional manager for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, asked why the DfT has made Section 22 Community Bus services exempt: “People are running whole town networks with Section 22 permits. They are all registered services.”

At first, Lisa Gouveia said she thought these were only community services: “No. These are registered mainstream bus services, and running them with Section 22 has been on the increase in recent years.”

“We will have to come back to you on that. We will have to confirm this with our lawyers.”

Under further challenges from operators over the safeguarding issues of releasing the precise location of children leaving buses, especially in rural areas, Lisa Gouveia said: “The school issue is quite complex, and we hadn’t considered it.”

Angered by the discussion, Gavin Bennett, Managing Director of Bennetts Coaches of Gloucester said: “Why not choose BSOG as a qualification for having to join BODS? Complying with legislation we don’t need has already cost me £15,000. Are you going to put your hand in your pocket?

“I think the DfT has lost the plot, and doesn’t understand the coach industry,” he said.

The on-line event last more than 1 ½ hours, culminating in the promise from Ben Murray and Lisa Gouveia that they had taken away the points raised and would address them.

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