Oxfordshire County Council's transport support team helping #stopthespread of COVID-19

It can be a tough job keeping the wheels turning safely for council services during lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions – and Paul Beard should know because he’s often at the steering wheel.

By Matt Elofson
Friday, 11th September 2020, 10:18 am
Updated Friday, 11th September 2020, 10:22 am

Paul has worked for the council’s supported transport team for eight years. He’s one of 90 members of staff who clock up the miles operating 62 vehicles to ensure that around 300 students with special educational needs and people who are eligible for transport to residential care homes, day centres and adult training centres for people with learning disabilities can reach their destination.

Everyone still needs to take care, wash their hands and maintain social distancing to help to #StopTheSpread of COVID-19, but people still need to get around – especially those who rely on county council transport.

Paul and his colleagues operate around 45 routes. They provide door-to-door transport countywide across the whole of Oxfordshire with depots are located in Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester, Oxford, Wallingford and Witney.

Paul Beard has worked for Oxfordshire County Council’s support transport team for eight years.

Their main clientele are people with mobility difficulties, although they can transport other passengers. Vehicles are all accessible either with tail lifts or ramps for passengers who are wheelchair users, or who may have other mobility difficulties.

Paul said: “I enjoy meeting people and each day is different and I believe the role helps to make a difference to the lives of the pupils I work with.

“Before COVID struck a normal day would involve picking up the vehicle and assistant before travelling on to pick up the pupils from home and take to school. I’d then go back to the depot to be allocated for extra jobs such as heling to run the Comet service or taking clients out for trips.

“Since COVID came along things have changed and we work first and foremost to keep people safe and stop the spread of the virus. That meant during lockdown that we don’t take on the extra jobs and stuck to school runs with a maximum of six pupils, although we are now able to carry more.

“I now devote time to carrying out extra cleaning on the bus and, of course, we have extra PPE to wear to keep everyone safe.

“All our younger clients seem to be ok with us wearing the extra PPE, which is new to many of them, and we made sure we explained clearly that it’s for our safety and theirs too. To them the masks and visors are pretty much the norm now.

“At the other end of the age range the Comet service has only just restarted only carrying a maximum of six older clients and they too seem to appreciate the extra efforts we are making to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Of course it is not as easy as easy as it was before lockdown and now the council’s team are prioritising all the safety measures needed to #StopTheSpread of COVID-19 to make sure the health of passengers, as well as their own, is safeguarded.

The county council’s fleet service is continuing to transport special needs students from home to school, clients to residential care homes as well as operating the Oxfordshire Comet minibus service which takes older residents for essential shopping trips or to doctors appointments.

The team have gone over and above their normal duties since lockdown struck.

Their work has included:

- Helping to set up, running and distribute initial emergency food packages to those in need.

- Assisting the NHS in transporting clinicians, GPs and nurses on patient home visits.

- Helping to distribute PPE to council hubs.

- Delivering computer equipment out to the many staff currently working from home due to building closures, this has meant that the team have been driving across the majority of the county and also well into neighbouring counties to help other departments to continue to operate.

- Stopping the spread and keeping emissions down too

As the largest council in Oxfordshire, the county council has already taken a strong lead and committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. Achieving that aim will benefit the county’s thriving communities and mean radically changing the way some things are done.

They now have three new 100% electric minibuses in the fleet which can travel up to 100 miles on a single charge and spend the morning and evenings taking children to and from school and the rest of the time they are used as part of the not-for-profit Oxfordshire Comet service.