07 November 2011: Congestion during the school rush hour already causes havoc in many communities, and is set to get worse as many councils plan cuts to school buses. Parents from North Yorkshire to Dorset and from Sussex to Leicestershire are already up in arms about school bus cuts. Worryingly, more and more councils are following suit. The issue is creeping up the political agenda and back bench MPs have laid down a motion in Parliament, calling for tighter rules to protect school bus passengers. You can show your support by writing to your MP, asking them to sign the motion.
The law says that pupils under 16 get must free school transport if their nearest school is more than three miles away, or two miles if they are under eight years old. However school transport provision over and above this is provided by local authorities on a discretionary basis, and this extra provision is now at risk. For example, buses for children over 16 years old, those living closer than 2 or 3 miles to school and those who do not attend their nearest school are not protected by law.
Some parents find their nearest school does not have space for their child, and poorer pupils who win places at grammar schools further afield also fall outside the statutory rules.
We need to be encouraging parents and children to use public transport or to walk or cycle to school and these cuts are a step in the wrong direction. In some cases unlit country lanes without footpaths are dangerous, and although councils expect adults to accompany children this is not always practical for working parents or for families where children go to schools in different locations. Taking away school buses without creating real alternatives, like safe foot and cycle paths, will increase car use and congestion, and in some instances put children in a dangerous position and working parents in an impossible dilemma.
Councils’ reductions to school transport provision are part of a wider picture of bus cuts, which are hitting rural communities particularly hard. Local authorities faced with huge budget reductions have in too many cases been rushing through cuts to public transport provision. At worst these transport cuts mean rural villages could become no-go areas for anyone but the wealthy and childless.
Cuts to school bus services are a classic example of bus cuts that actually turn out to be a false economy, because if young people are prevented from getting to school or college or working parents are forced to give up their jobs, we will find that other parts of the public purse will be put under greater pressure. Keeping buses running and keeping people mobile helps to save money and allows communities to thrive.