Council “could save up to £2.4million” in radical school bus changes

(Title Image: Wales Online)

Bridgend Council has, for several years now, sought to make changes to home-school transport in the county. For various reasons, they’ve never been able to pull it off completely.

A report due to be discussed by a BCBC Scrutiny Committee later this week (pdf) reveals a £1.1million overspend for 2019-20 due, at least in part, to a failure to make all of the necessary savings in spite of some changes being made.

School transport in Bridgend is more generous than the statutory minimum service laid down in Welsh law. During the second half of 2019, BCBC ordered a strategic review of school transport, looking at a whole range of potential solutions including changing school catchment areas, using day service and existing school minibuses for school transport and even changing the school day so students were taken to and from school at different times.

A final report from external consultants was presented to officers in November 2019, making several recommendations which may or may not be taken forward by BCBC:

  • Around £1.5million could be saved if BCBC changed the eligibility for free school transport to the statutory minimum – living at least 3 miles from a secondary school and 2 miles from a primary. More than half of all students travelling to school by bus or minibus and 39% of those travelling by taxi would lose their eligibility for free transport.
  • Introducing personal transport budgets (via a cash lump sum) at a rate of 40-45p-per-mile from home to school to help households cover the cost of school transport themselves.
  • Introducing travel passes for use on scheduled/commercial bus services and community transport; 765 secondary school students would potentially be eligible.
  • As mentioned, using social service department vehicles (i.e. elderly day service) to cover school transport.
  • Improved route planning for school buses to improve efficiency and also introducing a real-time tracking system with a live bus fleet map to improve student safety and pupil behaviour.
  • Introducing real-time e-auctions for school transport bids on a per-mile basis (as opposed to a traditional fixed procurement contract).
  • Maintain the strict “No Pass, No Travel” policy for secondary school pupils – which was introduced at the start of the 2019-20 academic year – and roll it out to primary school pupils.

In addition to the school bus service review, BCBC has sought to make walking and cycling more attractive to address parents’ concerns. Capita was appointed to undertake a full assessment of the best walking and cycling routes to and from the county’s secondary schools to determine where possible hazards are (and, you assume, will feed into future bids for Welsh Government active travel funding). No further details are provided on this.

If all of the proposals are taken forward, it could potentially save up to £2.4million in total by 2022-23 (not including any investments that would need to be made); however, if there’s no change to free transport eligibility then this falls to £1.74million over the same period.

Either way, big changes are probably coming.

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