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Bring SEN route planning into the 21st century

By The Whisperer

With many years in the coach and bus industry, The Whisperer keeps his ear to the ground for all the latest tit-bits and gossip. Tell him what’s going on in your part of the world: e-mail him via [email protected]

No longer is planning SEN services a long and laborious task. QRoutes has the potential to revolutionise the sector, condensing weeks of work down into just a few seconds after a button is pressed

QRoutes does not replace planners; instead, it works well with them

The transport of special education needs (SEN) passengers is a tough part of the minibus sector. Not only does it demand a bespoke approach from staff on the ground, it also mandates a high level of planning behind the scenes.

QRoutes is a software product that simplifies the latter. It takes a wide variety of parameters relating to SEN transport - with passenger mobility level, their ability to travel with others and the maximum time allowed aboard the vehicle as examples - and optimises routes to suit them.

Data relating to passenger, including their pickup location and abilities, is fed into QRoutes via a CSV file. The desired parameters for the results are then selected and the software does the rest in around 30 seconds.

Mapping is done using Ordnance Survey (OS) data. Results are thus as accurate as it is possible for them to be; OS maps allow individual properties to be selected, regardless of how rural the location is.

“We see some local authorities (LAs) still planning routes by hand. That takes a huge amount of time and so when passengers are added or removed, it is impossible to optimise routings to carry them in the most efficient way possible,” says QRoutes Business Development Director Jeff Duffell.

QRoutes does not replace the art of planning. It works in conjunction with it, and Jeff adds that good planners will be those who get the best from it. But with QRoutes, the planner is more of a fine-tuner, with the software doing the heavy lifting.

Savings to be had

One of the big benefits of QRoutes is that it allows networks to be redrawn quickly. That maximises efficiencies and allows the number of vehicles needed to be reduced.

Vehicles’ versatility is factored in to the software. Various carrying configurations of seated passengers and wheelchair users are defined by the user to work in conjunction with information relating to passengers’ levels of mobility and other requirements.

QRoutes software works out the optimum and most efficient routings

Jeff was kind enough to give miniplus a demonstration of QRoutes’ capabilities. Armed with nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection, he provided it with a customer’s existing network of 24 SEN routes that cover 263 miles per day.

The results are interesting. Within a few seconds, QRoutes had cut the number of vehicles required to 19. It also reduced the daily mileage to 187, while still meeting the customer’s stipulations imported from the original CSV file.

“SEN contracts [including taxis and minibuses] each cost at least £25,000 per year, so reducing the number of vehicles required by over 20% delivers a huge saving,” says Jeff. For LAs - and QRoutes has 25 signed up so far - that’s the key attraction. But there are others.

“It is a good ‘what if’ tool, allowing potential alterations to be analysed in advance of any changes to contracts,” he continues.

Streamlining services

A further novel benefit, and one that would be impossible to achieve via manual planning, is a streamlining of pick-up points when and where appropriate.

QRoutes is compatible with National Public Transport Access Nodes (NaPTAN) data, which includes the precise location of every bus stop in the UK. When the option is selected, QRoutes can calculate whether children who are currently picked up from home could walk to the nearest bus stop and be collected together; of course, that is not suitable for some SEN passengers, but for others, it will be.

“There is an argument that children benefit from the walk to and from a bus stop. Using our software we can link through to Google Street View to check whether the area is appropriate for them to wait. If it is, there is potentially a further saving to be had,” says Jeff.

The results of adjusting the maximum permitted time for children to be aboard can also be ‘dry run’ using QRoutes. On the network already described, no more than 60 minutes’ travelling time is permitted. Adjust that to 65 minutes, and the result is a further reduction in the number of vehicles required, from 19 to 16, despite only a handful of children being aboard for longer.

Bedford Borough Council saw significant savings thanks to using QRoutes

Added value

Once QRoutes has planned the services to be operated, it generates individual route reports with maps, pick-up points and distances. They can be used as part of the tendering package for bidders to base their prices on.

QRoutes is provided as a subscription service. There is no large contracted cost, and all pricing is openly available on the supplier’s website.

“That places the onus on us to make sure that our customers stay happy,” says Jeff. Functionality is constantly being added based on users’ feedback. QRoutes is also in discussions with data management suppliers to integrate their software into the routing platform.

Training is given on how to use QRoutes, but it is a very simple tool to get to grips with. Demonstrations are available nationwide and the supplier is engaged in a constant process of bringing more LAs on board. Speak to it if you are interested in joining them.

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