End of the line in sight for school bus
FREE school buses are set to terminate in Suffolk, as councillors seek to slash the £14million fare.The county council has approached the government, for permission to pilot a new scheme which will see parents paying.
FREE school buses are set to terminate in Suffolk, as councillors seek to slash the £14million fare.
The county council has approached the government, for permission to pilot a new scheme which will see parents paying for the first time in 60 years.
Councillor Tony Lewis, portfolio holder for children and young people, said: "Governments of both colours have failed to grasp the nettle. We're stuck with legislation from the 1940s. All the rest of school legislation has changed dramatically since then, but transport has stayed the same.
"There are high profile cases with the mileage limit where the catchment ends in the middle of the village street where people pay if they live at number 97, but not if they live at 95.
"The government is proposing pilots to look at the subject and we have expressed an interest in that.
"Somebody has to provide £14million a year to pay for school transport. It's free for the children, but it's being paid for by direct taxation.
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"We'd like to have a pilot where we try a system where everybody would pay. But it would include the normal exceptions where people are on low incomes."
Mr Lewis said the introduction of free school transport in the 1940s, had been vital to convince people of the value of extended education.
In a world where it was not unusual to see children leave school at 14 or younger, it was important to provide a big incentive to stay on until 16.
But he wants more up-to-date solutions to what is becoming an increasingly modern problem - getting children to school safely without breaking the bank or clogging up the roads.
He said: "The world has moved on. It will reach a point in the not too distant future where we will be struggling to find the money to pay for our legal obligations.
"We tried to strike a balance with tax rises as well as we could, but we have still got people complaining about 3.8 per cent.
"We made the point that you can't do something for nothing."
The idea to scrap free buses is still in its early stages. One possible idea would be to ask parents to pay an up-front amount per term.
This would bring mainstream schools into line with the proposal outlined for Suffolk's Catholic schools, as revealed in yesterday's Evening Star.
But Mr Lewis would like to see a discount card issued to the under 16s which would be valid for all services - for school and socialising alike.
The money to pay for the cut-price services would come from the current £14million bill for providing free school travel.
n What do you think? Is £14million a fair price for transporting children to school, or would you like to see parents pay?
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