Sheffield City Council in the UK has turned to the latest mapping and routing technology from QRoutes to improve special educational needs (SEN) transportation by calculating the best routes and optimizing resources, while not contributing to the city’s traffic congestion issues.
Transportation for those with special educational needs is one of the primary services managed by Sheffield’s Transport and Facilities Management Department, which currently provides transportation for 1,000 children to around 35 schools. The council’s existing SEN fleet comprises 160 passenger vehicles, and there are 300 drivers and passenger assistants on hand to deliver the service. The fleet includes a range of minibuses, as well as large specialist wheelchair lift vehicles that carry up to 16 passengers.
The council also relies on outsourced taxi services to meet the service needs of around 130 passengers that fall beyond the scope or reach of the council-run fleet. Managing the service is particularly complex because of the varied requirements of passengers and the need to satisfy schools, parents and pupils, but within budget constraints dictated by the People/Schools Services Department.
In the past Sheffield had used AutoRoute to plan SEN routes, but the software had become outdated and no longer supported. In 2016, the decision was made to find a replacement and an appraisal was carried out of available systems. Sheffield trialled the QRoutes system during 2017 and the software will now be the department’s main routing system, planning and continually fine tuning approximately 145 routes.
QRoutes is a cloud-based software tool designed to help Local Authority Transport Planners work out the best routing for school and SEN transportation. The software automates route planning, enabling operators to repeat the exercise as often as necessary, creating visual map-based results in minutes. Planners can also explore ‘what-if’ scenarios to find new improved routes and the software interfaces with existing data sets, making it easy to implement.
“We spent a long time trying to find software that could handle the complexities of SEN transportation, but the solutions on offer were very costly,” said Mike Keen, Sheffield’s senior transport officer. “Then we heard that a new system was being developed specifically for SEN and that was QRoutes. It was clear that the solution had tremendous potential and since working with them, the developers have been very receptive to developing the software to meet our needs.”
Keen continued, “The fact that it is web-based is a big benefit. Not only does it mean that we can access the system anywhere and anytime online, but it is very affordable and requires minimal IT support. The functionality is very good and the multi-layered mapping allows us to view as many routes as we want. Revised plans can be produced in seconds and we can switch and change parameters as much as we like to fine tune each plan.
“QRoutes is a tool that saves us a lot of time simulating different potential options. It takes about 30 seconds to run a plan and the system will give us an array of around 10 different solutions to consider; that would have taken days to do in the past.”