Creative Fighting - Meeting Economic Challenges Head On with Leeds City Council
With government spending cuts affecting so many areas of public transport, the challenge of operating with restricted resource is a recurring theme. But for organisations that deal with the travel requirements of the elderly, or people with learning difficulties, that problem is often magnified.
The challenges here are twofold: Firstly, as a society we have become more effective at diagnosing and supporting physical and mental issues, which results in more people entering support service channels. Secondly, people are of course living longer than ever before – so the requirement for transport is increasing.
For transport providers this presents a classic ‘rock and hard place’ scenario – with the title roles played by reduced budget and increasing demand.
One organisation succeeding in spite of the circumstances is Leeds City Council, which has the responsibility for providing passenger transport for the authority on behalf of children’s and adult services.
Of the challenging landscape, Business Manager Dylan Owen says: “The commissioning department is constantly pushing for improved quality, but at the same time we are under pressure to reduce expenditure.”
Another social factor here is the changing face of transport requirements: “We are doing less transport overall, but more complex work,” explains Mr Owen. “Increasingly we’re not transporting 15 people on a bus to one place any more, but we are more often dealing with one passenger that requires two escorts, or transporting clients to more diverse, individual settings. So we’re dealing with increasing requirements for really dependent travel.”
Of course, where constricting budgets meet increasing demand, innovative thinking is critical. Mr Owen and his team have employed a number of creative measures to offset external difficulties, including the implementation of new technology and an emphasis on ‘Travel Training’: The process of helping clients’ access mainstream forms of transport. This initiative is led by Leeds City Council’s Children’s Services department.
“There will always be instances where supported transport needs to be provided, but in many others it’s actually better for the individual to be independent,” Mr Owen says. “In most cases this will be a convenient, mainstream bus route they could use – so we are looking at that and trying to find better solutions for them.”
Not only is this process improving Leeds’ resource allocation; it actually serves the community, says Mr Owen: “We are finding that children around the age of 12-13 prefer having their independence to using a taxi.”
The other obvious area where innovation can play a role is in the adoption of new technology. Having implemented new in-vehicle data units a year ago with great success, Mr Owen and his team recently turned their attention to the back office, where it quickly became clear that the process by which transport requests were received had significant potential for improvement.
“Previously we received requests via a two page email form, from which the data was imported into the Trapeze system,” Mr Owen explains. “I had four to five people in the team working on booking transport requests.”
Having spoken with Trapeze about a module called ‘Web Worker’, which enables third parties to input and manage requests themselves via the Internet, Leeds City Council decided the system would be ideally suited for the more than 200 social workers Leeds currently work with.
With Web Worker installed, Leeds’ transport booking team has been liberated from its data entry workload (and also from the continuous return calls regarding bookings), enabling members to transition to more of an overseer role.
“The new process creates time for planning,” explains Mr Owen. “Of course we still have to take some of the bookings, but this takes away the everyday workload, leaving the team to focus on more complex tasks. Those four to five people can now focus on scheduling better routes that bring about better efficiencies. They’re able to do more of the big stuff.”
Impressively, the new process is already yielding results: “The process of putting tenders through this summer was better than ever before,” reveals Mr Owen. “September usually sees a spike, but it was smoother this year, so we can already see some influence of the changes.”
Of the changes that have been made, Mr Owen says: “They are all common sense. Why enter data twice? Why wouldn’t you implement these efficiencies?” “It has also reduced telephone queries by transport requesters as they are now notified via the system about the bookings they’ve made.”
“We want to keep our service relevant and up to date with current technology,” Mr Owen concludes. “The service we provide has to be flexible: we need to be more responsive, agile and independent in order to deal with fragmented journeys. We need more flexible technology to keep up.”
“The commissioning department is constantly pushing for improved quality, but at the same time we are under pressure to reduce expenditure.”
- Dylan Owen, Business Manager, Leeds City Council