Families in Somerset who pay for seats on school and college transport are being asked for their views on proposals to transform charging for the services.
Somerset County Council has put forward plans to increase the fares for ‘Pay Seats’ on school bus services, to bring them in line with fares paid by post-16 students, and those offered on public service transport.
The Council has a statutory duty to provide free school transport for entitled children, according to their age, and how far away they live from their nearest or catchment school.
Parents who live closer than those distances are responsible for making their own transport arrangements and funding the costs of getting their children to school. This is also the case for parents whose children attend a preferred school, which is not their nearest or catchment school.
Families who are not entitled to free transport can choose to pay for a spare seat, where available, at a charge which has traditionally been subsidised by the County Council.
The consultation is asking people’s views on bringing both school bus ‘Pay Seats’ and post-16 college fares in line with the amount paid by members of the public to use public bus services.
Somerset County Council has to continue to review all its services and budgets, including its education transport policy, due to a huge decrease in central government funding.
Cllr Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Somerset County Council, said: “We continue to face incredibly challenging times. We’ve seen a reduction of £20m in our funding over the last year and expect to lose a further £42million of Central Government funding by five years’ time. All this at a time when there is an increasing demand for our services.
“With such pressures, we have to be realistic about what we can provide in the future. This does mean considering whether to increase charges for pay seats and other, currently subsidised fares, such as post-16 transport.
“The consultation on the proposals is open for 12 weeks, so please take this opportunity to have your say.”
The proposal is to introduce a new pricing structure by September 2016 for new customers. It would also apply to families purchasing an additional pay seat or a pay seat to a different school.
Those currently purchasing a pay seat service would, however, continue to pay what they do at present – along with an expected year-on-year rise in inflation – until their child leaves their current school.
If the changes are made, post-16 students would be able to purchase a County Ticket, which would give access to buses on both the school and public bus networks. The reduced access Student Contract Ticket would no longer be available.
The full detail of the proposals and the consultation is available to read and complete online by clicking here.
A print copy of the consultation is also available to complete and return by phoning Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224.
Notes to editors
Somerset County Council has a duty to provide free transport for children attending their nearest or catchment school, if the distance between their home address and school is beyond the statutory walking distance.
A child is eligible for free transport if:
• the child is younger than 8, and attends their nearest or catchment school, and this school is over 2 miles from their home address
• The child is aged 8 or above, and attends their nearest or catchment school, and this school is over 3 miles from their home address.