Can you put a price on a child’s life?
We are delighted to have been granted permission to pre-publish the following article by Darren Critchley from Odyssey Coach Sales
This article will appear in the next issue of Route One
In my 30 years in the industry I have never understood why rates, particularly for school based work have been a race to the bottom. When schools book a coach for trip it’s always with the cheapest price. It’s never about quality. They send out a risk assessment form with the most basic of questions, “are you insured?”, “does your driver hold the appropriate licence for the vehicle they are driving”? Come on! No one in their right mind is going to answer NO.
I’ve said for years now that there’s no point educating schools or local authorities about safety or operational practices, they are only interested in who’s the cheapest. You need to educate the parents. Surely they will see the bigger picture as you can’t put a price on a child’s life. I have a 7 year old son, and I have already been into his school and told them that when he starts swimming lessons if the transport is provided by the current supplier I will be taking him in the car as I am not prepared to allow him to travel on their vehicles. Hopefully if I end up doing this the other parents will take note, ask why, and follow suit.
Today I have found out that my theory is wrong. You can put a price on a child’s life. That price is £3 per day, or £570 per academic year, or £3,990 for the 7 years that child is at high school. There is an operator in the North of England who has recently taken over another operator in his area. The previous operator operated a private home to school contract that the parents paid him directly for. He charged £3 per day return for a 53 seater coach, which means that if every seat was taken comes to £159 per day. If you take away his fixed costs of insurance, road fund licence, depreciation, and his variable costs of fuel, wages, wear and tear then he’s running at a loss. Not surprisingly that operator has had his operator licence revoked recently on grounds of poor maintenance and insufficient financial standing.
Following the purchase I was asked to value the operator’s fleet. I viewed two vehicles, a 19 year old Volvo coach, and a 14 year old Mercedes mini-coach. Had I have been DVSA officer I would have had to issue S marked prohibitions to both vehicles due to safety issues. The Volvo had 3 bald tyres across the back axle, one of which had cords showing and had had for some time as they were rusty. The Mercedes could not maintain its air pressure when sat with the engine idling which would potentially have caused both brake and suspension failure. Obviously these vehicles had not been maintained as the operator had no money as he wasn’t charging high enough rates. The operator has also been recently convicted of drink driving. I would suggest this is probably down to stress related issues due to the aforementioned operational difficulties.
So in steps operator number 2. A reputable operator with a top score on the OCS table. An operator who spends whatever is needed on maintaining his vehicles. An operator whose drivers are all correctly licensed and DBS cleared. An operator whose vehicles are tracked and equipped with CCTV. Obviously he has been asked to continue the service that the previous operator did for £3 per person. Following a costing exercise the operator has had to double the fare to £6 per person which just about makes the service viable as long as the coach is full. In reality the fare should be £7 per person. This has caused uproar from the parents. Greed has been citied. The operator has been accused of taking advantage of the situation, some parents have gone as far as to praise the previous operator for the good service they provided with their un-roadworthy vehicles. A number of them are now refusing to pay the increased fare preferring to share the cost of an 8 seater taxi, an industry that is not governed by any form of driver’s hours regulations which means potentially their children could be driven to school by a driver who has no DBS clearance in a vehicle that is MOT’s annually but doesn’t need any other form of inspection in that 12 months unlike a coach which must be inspected to a government standard every 6 weeks, and driven by someone who may be at the end of a 12 hour (or more) night shift.
So that goes to prove folks that you can put a price on your child’s life. The most precious thing you have in your life, and that price is £570 per year. How would you feel if your child lost their life in an accident in an un-roadworthy vehicle and you received a cheque for £570 every July until they left school. I think we all know the answer don’t we?
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Thanks Darren for sharing your article with us.