The answer to a coach driver shortage seems to be a solution that raises more questions than it answers.
At first glance, the use of coaches appears to be a pragmatic solution, but further investigation reveals ethical and practical issues. For example, is it appropriate to transport children who need extra care by coach? This raises questions about the quality of care and attention these children receive during their journey to school.
At a time when the taxi sector is taking a hard hit, municipalities seem to have found a panacea to solve the pressing problem of student transport: coaches. Policymakers decide too easily to transport primary school students by coach, instead of the usual taxi buses. But does this really solve the problem, or does it merely expose latent flaws in procurement procedures and political considerations?
The legal implications are also not negligible. Municipalities that opt for unconventional solutions may be confronted with legal challenges in the future. If tenders are won on the basis of unattainable promises, this can lead to lawsuits that can damage confidence in public administration. In addition, it is legitimate for losing parties in a tender to critically monitor and refer to the winners. “The award was judged unfairly and the winning organizations made an unrealistic offer. The fact that there is now a shortage of staff does not make sense,” is what the comments say.
In the meantime, there are also voices from the trade association KNV towards the municipalities. In an urgent appeal to all Dutch councils of mayors and aldermen, the Royal Dutch Transport (KNV) announces the emergency bell about the untenable situation in student transport. Chairman Bertho Eckhardt emphasizes the unacceptable pressure under which carriers and their staff are currently operating.
The trend towards using coaches exposes deep problems in procurement, personnel policy and political will.
Municipalities must look for solutions themselves to avoid political games. Increasing the mileage allowance for “arranging your own transport” seems like just a band-aid on the wound. Municipalities seem more concerned with finding a quick solution than with addressing the underlying causes, such as the reason for staff shortages and inefficient tenders and procedures.
Earlier this year, the municipality of Utrecht investigated various options such as flexible school times and training people over 65 and newcomers to solve the shortage of drivers in student transport. Rotterdam is following in its footsteps by also transporting more students by coach, with fixed routes where students can board at predetermined stops. The municipality Beesel initially had the plan to recover the costs from the transport company.
The municipality claims rightly or wrongly that she was overwhelmed by problems in the occupation despite preliminary discussions. In the meantime, the taxi sector, which traditionally provided student transport, is left with a possible permanent loss of contracts and even more declining employment. No one seems willing to take responsibility for the situation.
In summary, the use of coaches is a symptomatic solution to a much larger, more complex problem. While it may provide relief in the short term, it does nothing to address the structural problems in procurement procedures, the taxi sector and public administration. It is time for all parties involved, from municipalities to transporters, to seriously think about more sustainable and ethical solutions for those children.