Families of students in North Yorkshire who use home-to-school transport but who are not entitled to free transport, will be able to carry on taking up spare places following a decision today.
The decision means that non-entitled pupils will continue to be able to access home-to-school transport for a charge. It follows a consultation with families on revised arrangements including charges and the use of accessible vehicles in response to a legal challenge last year.
The legal challenge that councils can only charge for seats if using accessible vehicles, led to the County Council suspending 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 have therefore been travelling for free since September. 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 across England’s largest county every year, 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 consulted on a new range of options including the re-introduction of charges from September 2020 for non-entitled and post 16 pupils.
In response to the outcome of the consultation the County Council has today decided to charge where it is legal to charge and allow other spare seats to be used for free until July 2021.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Access and Transportation, said:
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 are glad to now be able to continue this tradition in some form, for as long as possible.
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. It is of course something we will work to provide through our contractors in the longer term.
In response to the consultation the County Council has also today made a renewed commitment that it would welcome applications from non-entitled pupils with mobility issues, and that all reasonable adjustments will be made to accommodate each request.
Entitled pupils with mobility needs will always be provided with a suitable vehicle that allows them to be transported in safety and comfort (including in their wheelchair if appropriate). The Council knows in advance whether pupils routinely require accessible transport and it is provided when necessary.
The Council is also currently working with operators to identify more innovative ways in procuring of home to school services to help encourage the use of more accessible vehicles