According to the Rotterdam children’s ombudsman Stans Goudsmit, the situation at Trevvel is spiraling out of control. Due to a lack of drivers at the student transport company, many children are late for school. Goudsmit thinks the situation is taking too long. In an extensive interview she discusses the situation at the Rotterdam carrier, its effects and the risks if the transport is contracted out to one party. “Replacement is not just arranged.”
You think that municipalities should not place all transport with just one carrier during the tender. Can you also explain why?
“It is difficult for municipalities to say goodbye to the carrier if problems arise with that one provider. You will immediately be left empty-handed. About two thousand students are transported in Rotterdam. If the municipality were to suddenly stop working with Trevvel, those two thousand children – as well as their parents – would suddenly have a big problem. There is no easy replacement for that. That is why I think that contracting out transport to just one party is risky.”
There are also voices from the sector that argue in favor of the opposite. Henk van Gelderen, director of the Mobility Procurement Institute, even says that the sector will become more attractive if municipalities bundle their transport with a carrier. As a result, employees can get better contracts and compete in the labor market. How do you view that?
“I only partially agree. There is one provider of student transport in Rotterdam. But meanwhile, that one provider makes use of all kinds of subcontractors, other parties who drive for them. That is difficult for municipalities, because they have no insight into those subcontractors. They don’t know who those subcontractors are and neither do the parents. Parents often do not even know where their child is, because it is taken by someone of whom it is actually not clear who that is.”
If Trevvel engages another party, then shouldn’t that be known to them?
“At Trevvel they know it, but the municipality of Rotterdam has no idea what is happening at those other parties. I hear from parents that Trevvel often does not know exactly where the children are when they are transported by such a subcontractor. There is also a risk in that. If you outsource transport to one party, and this, for example, is in trouble due to staff shortages, as a result of which they hire transport from other parties, then the chain becomes very long. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for a municipality to monitor what is happening in that chain.”
Do these staff shortages remain a national problem?
“This is how it is presented now, but there is more to it. Of course there is a staff shortage, but there is still much to be gained in other areas. For example, think of planning and communication. If that planning were better, drivers could drive more efficient journeys. This would allow them to transport more students.
The journeys that drivers currently drive are not logical. I hear this not only from parents, but also from people who use target group transport. Drivers are criss-crossing the city and driving, driving too many miles to transport someone from one place to another. If that planning is better in order, you will reduce the staff shortage. As far as I’m concerned, that’s part of the solution.”
Another problem in the sector is poor pay. How do you feel about that?
“It is not an attractive job for many people. The sector should be made more attractive. If you drive for two hours in the morning and drive for two hours in the afternoon, you can’t support a family. Those people should have something to do between the morning and afternoon rides so that they can earn a full income from that job.”
“They could drive the mayor or transport people who have to go to Schiphol, for example. I’m no expert in this, but there are probably some things that drivers could do for a municipality in between those trips. I think it makes sense to explore how that job can be made more attractive.
In that context. You are also committed to the return of the permanent supervisor. Why are you arguing for this?
In Rotterdam they now transport more children by taxi to solve the acute problem. It is of course quite difficult for a driver to pay attention to the road when you have seven children in the back seat. If that is the case, make sure that there is a permanent supervisor on the bus. You can’t do it to drivers to both keep an eye on the road and keep seven bouncing balls under control. You quickly get over that.”
Permanent guidance is of course also a question of money.
“Yes, but we are talking about a public task here. It is about children who have the right to education. That’s not free. And apart from that, if you put seven kids in a van instead of four, you save on that too. And let’s be honest: these are not tasks where you can sit in the front row for a dime. It just costs money. Let’s be realistic about that too.”
What do you think should be done to solve the problems that are currently playing in Rotterdam as quickly as possible?
“Ultimately, the municipality is ultimately responsible. This is a public task. I see now that the alderman is on top of it. That is good. At the same time, we are still receiving complaints from parents. This concerns children who are transported much too late or not at all. The fall break starts in a month. If the problems are not solved by then, I think that the municipality itself should take action. By giving parents compensation if they have to drive themselves, for example. Or by giving parents the option to call a regular taxi if Trevvel has not arrived after half an hour.
Do you think the problems will be solved by then?
“I do not know. The focus is now very much on Trevvel. However, I think that the time has come for the focus to also focus on the parents and the children. Fortunately, everyone is aware that this situation is totally undesirable. I also saw that during the debate in the city council, which I attended on Wednesday. Everyone is really aware that this problem must be solved as soon as possible. I am very happy with that.”
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