When organising pupil transportation, local governments mostly choose “one solution for all”, and the choice is often based on the competition with neighbouring local governments for school children and money that follows pupils, not on the understanding of the different situations and needs of children.
Because of the irrational and imprudent organisation of pupil transportation, pupils are compelled to spend a very long time on their way to school and back. It negatively affects pupils’ health and the quality of learning process. Such approach to pupil transportation leaves the care for children safety and the quality of the available education in the background, which is not acceptable, says the State Audit Office after carrying out an audit of local government actions when providing pupil transportation.
When analysing efficiency of pupil transportation, the State Audit Office assessed two main aspects in its audit – transportation safety and the effect on pupils’ health and learning process. It was concluded in the audit that the way pupil transportation is organised is not safe enough and without the aim to not leave a negative effect on pupils’ health and learning process. The routes of pupil transportation often overlap with public transport routes. Therefore auditors doubt the rationality and efficiency of such transportation system.
“Local governments state children safety as the most important argument for the organisation of pupil transportation and in the view of the State Audit Office there can be no doubt about it. However, in the audit we have seen that often the care for children safety and health, as well as the responsibility for the fact that every child in Latvia should get the best possible education, loses to the competition of local government for money that follows pupils,” explains the Auditor General Elita Krūmiņa. “There is not a one correct answer to how to organise transportation in pupils’ interests that would suit all. Therefore, each local government should find individual solutions, also by using the self-assessment tools prepared by the State Audit Office.”
Early mornings, late nights and several hours in the local government bus
Instead of getting to school in sometimes just ten minutes using the public transport, pupils spend even an hour or more in the local government transport that bring them to a school of the respective local government. Audit results indicate that local governments rather choose to bring pupils living in their territory to their schools than let them to go to an educational institution in another municipality even if it is practically next to their place of residence and it is not worse or is even better in terms of education level. Some local governments indicated during the audit that if they refuse to collect their pupils from their place of residence, these pupils will definitely be collected by a neighbouring local government, although it is time-consuming.
Also the routes for the local government transport are planned without assessing whether the pupil has an easily available public transport to get to school and how far away from school is the pupil’s place of residence or the public transport stop. Many pupils have to get up before 6 a.m. in order to get to the school bus on time. For many pupils the time spent on the way to school is inadequately long, but after the lessons they have to wait for a long time for a bus that brings them back home through the whole municipality. That negatively affects pupils’ physical well-being and the ability to concentrate on learning process. Besides, many schools have not been able to offer meaningful classes or other relevant activities in the waiting time before and after lessons.
Safety – only on paper?
It was found in the audit that 25% of the seats in vehicles used for pupil transportation are not equipped with seat belts. There are no pupil supervisors present in the vehicles and in some cases there are more pupils in a vehicle than allowed by the technical specification.
The State Audit Office points out also several deficiencies relating preventive safety measures: Systematic and coordinated road safety measures in educational institutions and outside of them are not organised; improvements in road infrastructure and the maintenance of every-day roads are not planned with the safety of pupils’ travel as a priority, although in different local government documents it is set as a priority.
Calculation of passenger transportation costs – unusual practice
An in-depth analysis of the costs of pupil transportation for local governments unfortunately shows that such calculations are made superficially and only in some local governments. Without comprehensive cost accounting it is difficult to assess the possibilities to lower these not at all insignificant costs, says the State Audit Office. Therefore, the State Audit Office together with the 12 local governments included in the audit has carried out a calculation of pupil transportation costs, and in the result of the audit the methodology for cost calculation is offered also to other local governments that were not involved in the audit.
Suitable solutions shall be found
It was concluded in the audit that by re-planning and re-organising pupil transportation in four local governments, in which the economy and efficiency of pupil transportation were assessed in-depth also by an external expert, it would be possible to save at least 152 thousand Euro in total in a year. It would be possible to redirect these funds to the development of the field of education. This example shows that there are possibilities to seek and find resource reserves also in other local governments.
In the view of the State Audit Office, local governments are too inert when it comes to assessing possibilities to use the availability of public transport for pupil transportation, to coordinate times of school lessons and interest-related courses with the timetables of public transport and to develop other ways of pupil transportation.
Only in some cases pupils get to educational institutions using public transport services, the costs of which are reimbursed by the local governments. When identifying pupil transportation costs, it is not enough to compare them to the costs of public transport or external services. The possibilities offered by public transport operators and whether pupils are brought to the most easily acceessible educational institution of the appropriate education level should also be assessed.
After assessing the planning and implementation of pupil transportation, the State Audit Office calls local governments for an assessment of different alternatives to pupil transportation, including the possibility to change the time and offer of lessons and interest-related classes, the possibility of a broader cooperation with neighbouring local governments, as well as possible support mechanisms for pupils and parents, in order to support other possible ways of travel for pupils in their travel routes.