(Title Image: Wales Online)
Following a report and joint committee discussion earlier this month, later today Bridgend Council’s Cabinet will make a decision on changes to school bus services (pdf).
Any changes, if agreed, would come into effect from September 2021 with the aim to save £775,000.
It may not end there. An independent review identified further changes which could save up to £2.4million – though these won’t be introduced yet.
What the Scrutiny Committees said
One concern was the impact on the Welsh language. While the distance rules will apply equally to all types of school, the council has decided that in order to ensure students stay on in Welsh-medium education beyond the age of 16, free transport will be maintained for post-16 Welsh-medium (and faith school) pupils.
Some thought this was discriminatory to Anglicans (who may want to attend Bishop of Llandaf sixth-form) and English-medium pupils (though the majority of students live within walking distance of English-medium schools).
Additionally, there was a sense that pupils living disadvantaged areas of the Valleys will be disproportionately affected due to the withdrawal of commercial bus services, which may limit transport options in a way students living in other parts of the county wouldn’t have to deal with.
With an expectation that more pupils will walk or cycle to school or Bridgend College, committee members brought up the need for proper facilities (i.e. cycle parks) on-site, as well as clarification over the appeals process should a parent question whether they live along a safe active travel route. Some thought routes to and from schools should be prioritised for any additional Welsh Government active travel funding.
The transport requirements of special needs pupils will be decided on an individual basis, so they don’t strictly lose free transport (including post-16 learners).
The Final Recommendations
In a largely unchanged set of recommendations, officers have recommended the Cabinet:
- Withdraws free transport for pupils living less than 2 miles from a primary school or 3 miles from a secondary school and who also live along an identified safe route to school; this will apply equally to English-medium, Welsh-medium and faith schools.
- Removes escorts from taxis and minibuses carrying less than eight passengers except those with special needs.
- Withdraws free transport for nursery pupils.
- Withdraws free transport for post-16 learners (except special needs, Welsh-medium and faith-based post-16 students).
- Removes the entitlement to free transport for pupils who have siblings eligible for transport under the old rules.