Continued payment for contracted home-to-school transport remains a hot topic for the industry. And rightly so. For some operators, reimbursement at 100% of those contracts’ values is the difference between them surviving and not. That is how critical it is.
What is perhaps even more difficult to deal with by those concerned is the situation generally facing operators of home-to-school services that are commercial.
Revenue there has been lacking for the duration of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Staff involved can be subjected to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme without worrying about the effect that doing so will have upon ongoing payments (because there are none). Otherwise, there is a lack of support.
While it is true that the commercial operation of a home-to-school service is at the operator’s risk, the same is the case for commercial local bus routes. The latter have, quite correctly, received support to enable essential travel. The same safety net should be in place to ensure that equally essential commercial home-to-school journeys can be made in due course.
But that is not the case. Instead, a lack of authoritative action from governments has manifested itself in a growing risk that providing all home-to-school transport come August or September may be challenging.
A further complicating factor for commercial home-to-school services relates to provision of social distancing when children return. Will it be required? And if so, who will pay for the additional vehicles that it will mandate?
It is because of these questions, and many more, that the government’s continuing radio silence in response to the case made by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) for support for the coach industry is difficult to understand.
At the time of writing, neither a yay nor a nay had come forth. There is no smoke from Rishi Sunak’s Sistine Chapel. The sector thus sits in a state of limbo. Unsure whether it will receive backing. In some cases, not knowing whether all its members will be here in August or September to transport children to school.
Governments’ failure to entirely understand the coach industry is not new. But the sector’s case to Mr Sunak was made comprehensively by CPT over a month ago. The lack of response is inexcusable.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Home-to-school transport providers’ services will be required again soon. Let us hope they do a better job of delivering when they are needed than the government has in responding to calls for a coach industry support package.