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Families have just over one week left to give their views on the future provision of home to school transport across North Yorkshire.
The consultation, which asks residents to comment on proposals regarding charges and the use of accessible vehicles, will close on Sunday, 19 April 2020.
In response to a legal challenge, North Yorkshire County Council last year suspended the practice of offering spare seats for a charge on most of its home to school services.
Most non-entitled pupils and post-16 students had therefore been travelling for free since September, prior to the current lockdown measures due to coronavirus. But this loss of income by a council facing severe financial pressures is not sustainable in the long term.
Similarly, the council is unable to carry the additional annual £2.7m it would cost to make all home to school transport accessible. Currently, most mainstream home to school transport is not accessible as separate arrangements are made for entitled pupils with mobility needs. As the council already spends in excess of £24m providing home to school transport, this significant increase would have a serious and negative impact on other council services.
However, as the Government has recently provided exemptions for a period of time for school transport services that carry fewer than 20 per cent of fare-paying passengers, the council is consulting on a new range of options, including the re-introduction of charges from September 2020 for non-entitled and post 16 pupils.
The proposals are:
- Transport only eligible pupils;
- Charge for spare seats where it is legal to charge – but do not offer the use of spare seats on vehicles where it would not be lawful to charge;
- Charge where it is legal to charge and allow other spare seats to be used for free;
- Charge where it is legal to charge and allow other spare seats to be used for free until July 2021, from then charge for spare seats where it is legal to charge.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access and Transport, said:
We would like all our home to school transport vehicles to be accessible, but the cost at the present time and in the legal timescale is prohibitive. It is simply not affordable given the very great pressures on our budget and the fact we still have £19m in savings to find overall. It is, of course, something we will work to provide through our contractors in the longer term.
However, we know that our long tradition of enabling non-entitled and post-16 pupils to pay for spare seats on home to school transport is very popular and we wish to continue this tradition in some form, for as long as possible. I would urge families who use home to school transport to have their say on changes that will affect them.
The results of the consultation will be reported to the Executive in May. To take part, please visit www.northyorks.gov.uk/home-to-school-transport-consultation