Bus charge policy could affect poorer’ students

AS many as 500 of the county s poorest students could be forced to pay £65 a term to use public transport to get to college. Cambridgeshire County Council says a policy is being developed to introduce a charge for post-16 students from low- income famil

AS many as 500 of the county's poorest students could be forced to pay £65 a term to use public transport to get to college.

Cambridgeshire County Council says a "policy is being developed" to introduce a charge for post-16 students from low- income families effective from September 2008.

"Currently, such students qualify for free transport," said Claire Buckingham, assistant education officer. "It is proposed that the charge would be the same as that paid by pupils from low income families who purchase spare seats on contract buses, which is currently £65 per term."

The measure is one of many being looked at by the county council to tackle last year's £750,000 overspend in school transport costs.


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A report, co-authored by Ms Buckingham, setting out a number of cost saving measures was considered the county scrutiny committee last week.

After the meeting, she explained that at this stage "nothing is ruled in, and nothing is ruled out" and it would be up to the council's cabinet to make the final decision.

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A report is expected to go to councillors in September and the public will then be consulted.

"If cabinet think this is something that should be pursued, it will go out to consultation," she said.

The council believes there is a "clearly identified risk" with the proposed policy. Removing entitlement to free transport for post-16 students from low-income families would clash with the Government's aims of supporting disadvantaged families.

However, Ms Buckingham told councillors that these students receive an education maintenance allowance - worth £30 per week for eligible students - and this money was partly intended to pay for travel costs anyway.

Among other proposals being considered are the abolition of family travel tickets for getting pupils to school or college, where only one pays and the rest go free.

"If you have three children, for example, at the moment, you only pay for one, the more expensive, and the rest go free," said Ms Buckingham. "We checked around with neighbouring authorities and regionally we are in a minority still offering that."

Pressures on the council's near- £10 million a year budget for home to school transport means other initiatives need to be considered. The council, for instance, is faced with extra charges because six schools have changed their school hours. There is also a shortage of local bus operators and a national shortage of bus drivers.

The county currently has 70 contracted routes which provide travel for 1,250 pupils within the statutory walking distance of their school but whose route to school is classified as unsafe.

This costs the council £1.4million a year and work is under way to see if some of these routes could be made safe rather than continue with an open commitment to provide transport.

Spare seats on school buses could also be sold at a discount to youngsters who do not qualify for free travel, and use of volunteer drivers and community transport is also being considered.

"Before anything happens, however, the public will be consulted once the final report has gone to cabinet," said Ms Buckingham.

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