Published: 18:20, 28 September 2021
| Updated: 18:25, 28 September 2021
School buses and taxis in Kent have now been hit by the driver shortage crisis with issues increasing "alarmingly" and hundreds of vulnerable children left without transport.
The shortage, sickness and now the fuel crisis have hit providers like Arriva and Stagecoach and now KCC is pleading with the government to help.
In a letter to the county's MPs the council said the issue is "impacting on home to school transport for all children including the most vulnerable – whether they are using public or private hire transport."
It added: "All our operators are struggling to find drivers. Both Stagecoach and Arriva have driver shortages, which mean they are losing journeys, especially when you add in daily absence due to sickness or self- isolation. Both operators have emergency plans to tackle the shortage, over time, but in the short term, we are providing support with their emergency timetables to enable them to maintain peak commuter and school services. Our smaller operators are no different, but they have no capacity for extra work and coaches on standby to cover."
It added it is also struggling to find taxi companies able to transport children with special educational needs while there is also a shortage of passenger escorts, leaving 391 children without an allocated provider.
It continued: "We are seeing contracts won, then handed back due to operators’ staff shortages.
"Although we have already allocated transport to a large number of our SEN clients (4,955), the increase of this cohort of SEN children (a 12%+ increase since September 2019), means that hundreds (391) are still to be allocated and there is very real concern about securing their transport to school or college.
"To illustrate further, 823 requests for SEN Transport have been received in the last seven weeks in the Passenger Transport Unit. Whilst operators try to find new staff, our colleagues within KCC’s Passenger Transport Unit are looking across the Southeast for additional drivers and we are working hard to deliver an offer to parents as an alternative to our hired transport.
"As we struggle to get transport, we are acutely aware of those parents being extremely angry and frustrated. We are doing everything in our power to mitigate this and would welcome your support if parents turn to you."
In a joint statement KCC’s education and highways cabinet members Shellina Prendergast and David Brazier said: “Home to school transport for some of Kent’s most vulnerable children and young people is being negatively impacted by the national shortage of qualified drivers and this week we have written to the county’s MPs urging them join Kent County Council in supporting those families affected.”
The statement added: “This shortage is affecting pupils who travel to school on both public and private hire transport, it has been worsened by driver sickness and periods of self-isolation, and it is now being exacerbated by the current fuel situation.
“Throughout the pandemic, KCC has been working closely with our transport providers and supporting them to keep services running and this work has intensified as this latest situation has developed over the past few weeks. We are also helping transport providers recruit additional drivers and passenger assistants as well as working hard to seek alternatives to hired transport for some of our pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.
“We understand that concerns over home to school transport can be worrying and frustrating for children and young people, and their parents and carers, and we would like to reassure all families in Kent that we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure pupils can get to and from school safely during these unprecedented times, which are affecting so many people throughout the country.”