This article first appeared in the Llanelli Star on 15/01/2020
The sudden withdrawal of school buses has caused major problems, and these should have been anticipated and sorted out months ago. The situation is complex, with new legislation and complicated wording about exemptions, but we all need to work together now to find ways to restore bus transport as soon as possible.
The three mile cut-off point for secondary school pupils’ entitlement to free transport has remained the same for years, and it has always been questionable whether it is realistic for pupils living just under three miles away to walk to and from school, carrying their books and kit in all weathers. What has changed recently is the cost and availability of local bus services, with relentless privatisation and the withdrawal of public subsidies as councils face swinging cuts, and the subsequent loss of less profitable routes. This means that even if there still is an appropriate bus, costs have soared, leaving low income families in particular struggling to pay the regular fares.
I have been shocked to learn that, although there is a scheme whereby pupils living under three-miles can access for a more reasonable fare the spare places on coaches for over three-mile pupils, this process has been cumbersome, only starting half a term into the school year and with pupils turned away even when they can see spare places on the bus. I understand the County Council will now review the scheme, but this needs to be done as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure the maximum number of pupils benefit.
Cuts in bus services and the cost of fares are not just a problem for school pupils, but also for many people trying to get to work or access services. We need some real UK Government investment to provide a properly joined up network of reliable, affordable services.