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Cuts to school transport generate 100m extra car journeys a year

26 May 2016

Campaign for Better Transport is calling for more to be done to protect school and college transport as new figures reveal cuts to school buses have generated up to 100 million additional car journeys each year.

The School Transport Matters report, compiled using figures taken from a survey of local authorities by consultants STC, revealed that:

  • Outside of London 300,000 children, and 50,000 young people aged 16-18 have lost their transport to school or college since 2008 – the equivalent of 10,000 single decker buses a day
  • Nearly 80 per cent of local authorities have reduced school transport since 2010, with children in rural England the worst affected by cuts and the loss of services
  • Two thirds of local authorities no longer provide any free transport to post 16 students
  • The loss of school transport provision is estimated to have resulted in more than 100 million additional car journeys each year

Across the UK nearly one million pupils receive school transport from their local authority. Local authorities are legally obliged to provide free school transport for certain groups of children under 16, but over and above that provision is discretionary.

Cuts to council budgets have led many local authorities to reduce school transport to the statutory minimum. Crucially these cuts are coming in tandem with cuts to supported bus services, meaning school buses are disappearing at the same time as public services, leaving many children and young people no public transport at all. Rural areas have been particularly badly hit.

Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, said: School buses are essential to reducing congestion and improving air quality, as well as ensuring young people are able to access their choice of school or college. What these figures reveal is a real divide opening up between urban and more rural areas, with children in rural areas having fewer and fewer public transport options. For many parents the choice between working and taking their children to school is becoming a real issue. If the Government is serious about reducing traffic jams and air pollution, it should start with supporting decent school transport.”

Sian Thornthwaite, who compiled the report, said: “Local authority provision of school transport is vital if all young people are to participate in education and training, particularly those living in rural areas or who have special needs. Experience from London shows that supporting free bus travel for young people enables them to access education, helps improve their opportunities and encourages bus use.  These transport cuts are hitting young people hard.”

Martin Doel, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC) said: “Travel costs should not be a barrier to education and training and it is unacceptable that many students struggle to afford to get to college because free transport services are being cut. The Government urgently needs to review the situation, especially when everyone must now stay in education and training until they are 18. If students cannot afford to travel to college, then they will not be able to access the training they need to fulfil the requirements of employers.”

Campaign for Better Transport is urging the Government to extend statutory school and college transport provision up to 18, the age when young people can legally leave education or training, and for a consistent national concessionary fares scheme for young people. The transport charity is also calling for the Buses Bill, which is has just been introduced to Parliament, to strengthen the duty on local authorities to assess needs for public transport services and show they have taken steps to meet this need.

In addition the report recommended more and better funded Total Transport initiatives, which look to combine local authority transport, including buses, school and college transport, social care and non-emergency health transport coherently and more effectively to reduce costs and improve services.


Case study quotes

Michelle Wilkes, who lives in Ditton Priors in Shropshire and has two children, said: "My daughter can no longer attend her chosen sixth form college independently. Since the daily bus service from our village was cut, my husband currently drops my daughter off and collects her from college. This involves her having extremely long days and often waiting alone in the dark during the winter months."

Ann Hooks, who lives near Braintree in Essex and has two children, said: "It came as a complete surprise to us that my son will no longer entitled to free school transport as we weren’t aware that a consultation and a change of policy had occurred. I now have to pay £50-60 a month in bus fares - that's if there's a bus available. The bus company which operates the school bus has a diminishing contract with Essex County Council and cannot guarantee that it will continue. I may then be forced to change my work hours or my job to drive my children to school along Braintree's already severely congested roads."

Sherie Paris, who lives in Doddington in Cambridgeshire and has two children, said: "My son is 16 and attends a special school in Wisbech, almost 20 miles from our home. Cambridgeshire County Council is proposing to end free school transport for disabled children once they reach 16. If this happens to take my son to and from school I would need to leave my job. I choose to work because I don't want to live on benefits but if they cancel school transport, I will have no choice."


Case studies are available for interview, for further information please contact Alice Ridley on 020 7566 6495 / 07984 773 468 or alice.ridley@bettertransport.org.uk or Richard Watkins on 020 7566 6494 / 07984 773 468 or richard.watkins@bettertransport.org.uk


Notes to Editors

  1. Read the full report, School Transport Matters, here. The report is based on responses from a survey sent to all local authorities in the UK. The responding local authorities represent about 40 per cent of the total school population and 40 per cent of the overall expenditure nationally on school transport. Responses were received from all types of authority - London Boroughs, Scottish authorities, Welsh councils, the Northern Ireland Education Authority, English unitary and metropolitan authorities and two thirds of the English shire authorities, which are the main spenders/providers of home to school transport.
  2. The provision of free school transport varies slightly within each nation, but generally local authorities are legally obliged to provide free school transport for pupils aged between five and 16-years-old if their nearest school is more than a set distance away. There are also additional provisions for children will special educational needs and for children from low income families in England. There is no statutory provision for post 16 transport.
  3. Total Transport works by bringing together the funding and expertise behind diverse policy objectives, allowing local authorities to enhance the quality and scale of support they give to transport. This is particularly important for rural areas. Total Transport is based on the idea that public transport, walking and cycling are not ends in themselves, but contribute to a wide range of policy objectives. This includes goals such as physical activity rates, ability to access key services, promoting independent living for older people and those with disabilities, and helping people get to employment markets. As a direct result of Campaign for Better Transport’s work, the Government launched a £4 million Total Transport pilot fund in January 2015.
  4. Campaign for Better Transport’s Buses in Crisis report found that since 2010 £78 million has been axed from local authority bus funding in England and Wales, resulting in over 2,400 bus services being reduced, altered or withdrawn from service. Campaign for Better Transport has produced an interactive map showing the scale of cuts to supported bus services across England and Wales. 
  5. STC is a specialist transport and management consultancy focusing on all aspects of passenger transport - supported local bus, non-emergency health, social care, school and college, special needs, and community transport. STC works mainly with local authorities across the UK, but also transport operators, developing transport strategies, assessing needs, working with young people, undertaking consultation, leading large scale reviews and supporting and implementing change.
  6. Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).