Bus Open Data to slam into home-to-school market?

In a new body blow, home-to-school operators are being told they must supply Bus Open Data from the end of this month, and the DfT is insisting on vehicle location data being supplied a week later.

The BOD demand affects only home-to-school services which admit non-entitled pupils, for whom fares are paid. However, one H2S operator says that the publication of timetables married with vehicle location beacons poses a serious safeguarding risk for school children, particularly in rural areas, and will make children’s journeys home more lengthy.

School transport software supplier Chris Bell of ShuttleID alerted Bus and Coach Buyer to the problem. He says many operators will be caught out by the demand for fare and timetable data to be submitted electronically at the end of this year, and doubts many operators will be able to supply automatic vehicle location (AVL) data for H2S services.

“The scandal is that school services have been caught in this net,” said Chris. “All registered school services are now expected to comply, although they are in reality closed-door services without public access.”

Bus Open Data is a government initiative to centralise details of bus services for use on public journey-planning platforms. While most if not all stage carriage operators will have the necessary electronic ticket machines (ETMs) and core software to supply this data, Chris says he doubts that H2S operators have, nor could make a business case for installing ETMs.

“The DfT, in its own guidance outlined in January, said that schools would be exempt. Now the DVSA is saying that registered schools services will have to comply. The only way around this may be to deregister schools services, but operators fear that this will red-flag them to the Traffic Commissioner.

“It’s ridiculous, especially as among the exemptions are services arranged by someone other than the operator; and services which are not advertised to the public. So far as I am aware, the Confederation of Passenger Transport has done nothing to warn schools operators that this law will apply to them.”

The CPT says it is, however, well aware of the problem and has discussed it with members: ““The announcement that closed door service are in scope for Bus Open Data [BOD] has come as a surprise to the industry, especially when the original guidance suggested this would not be the case and has left operators with a short time period to ensure they comply.

CPT is discussing this urgently with the Department for Transport to help operators navigate what for many is an unexpected issue and a member briefing session has been arranged for next week,” said a spokesman. BCB has since learned that CPT will be putting the case for exemption to the DfT this week, and has arranged an on-line meeting to discuss the outcome on Wednesday (9 December).

Publishing timetables for H2S also has as serious safeguarding risk. If this data is published, anyone with a sinister reason for knowing can travel to a rural area in the certain knowledge they will find a school child.”

Kathryn Pulham – Vice-Chair of the Coach Commission and Director at Gloucestershire-based Pulham Coaches – said that, like PSVAR, the issue arises because of fare-paying, non-entitled pupils. H2S services which carry entitled free transport only are not in scope of BOD.

Kathryn Pulham, Pulhams Coaches

If the school procures the service and takes the payment, you are not in scope but if you are taking fares from parents, you are,” said Kathryn. “We also operate bus services so we are in step with BOD and very supportive of it. But seven out of ten of our school services will need AVL if this goes ahead.

I have a problem with strict timetabling and with AVL on school buses. The first is that all operators and drivers know that some children occasionally have after-school clubs or a social reason for not travelling. Are we then supposed to drive up narrow country roads and wait for two minutes on the afternoon when we know perfectly well the pupil is not on the bus?

Publishing timetables for H2S also has as serious safeguarding risk: “If this data is published, anyone with a sinister reason for knowing can travel to a rural area in the certain knowledge they will find a school child.”

  • Read next week’s Bus and Coach Buyer for the latest on this story – published on-line on 16 December, in print on 18 December

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