Suffolk County Council propose changes to school bus services - affecting 3,700 students

Proposed changes to bus services.
Proposed changes to bus services.

Pupils are at risk of losing their transport to school as Suffolk County Council proposes changes to its ‘unsustainable’ county-wide bus services.

A report, released ahead of a full council meeting on Tuesday, reveals an estimated 3,700 pupils could be left without a bus service and be required to organise their own travel arrangements if proposals go ahead.

The ‘worst-case scenario’ outlined in the report could see families having to move their children to the nearest suitable school in order to qualify for the services.

An estimated 2,400 students would be entitled to transport to the nearest school two or three miles away. However, 1,300 would no longer be able to use the service as they would live less than two or three miles from the nearest school.

Despite this, the council said it would “dissuade families from moving schools, as this is disruptive to the child’s education, and assist them in planning sustainable travel”.

The County Council’s report says all residents who travel on public transport could benefit from the changes. It points out counties such as Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire have successfully introduced similar changes.

Suffolk County Council’s reasoning behind the proposals is in a bid to create more travel options that will “help residents learn, work and socialise”, and “encourage green and healthy alternatives such as walking, cycling and sharing vehicles”.

The impacts highlighted in the report also state that 88 per cent of children, about 93,000, whose families plan their own route to school could benefit from more available public transport options – while 5.8 per cent, 6,100 children, would be unaffected as they would be attending their nearest school.

There would also be also a “small impact” on children with special educational needs or disability. The report says a “statistically small number of families would be affected” , but “cases would be carefully considered through the exceptions policy, and by the Individual Needs Travel Group (INTG) before making changes to travel arrangements, further reducing the number of families impacted”.

The report also makes clear a potential impact on those living in rural areas of Suffolk, saying “there may be a negative impact for some families living in rural areas as most of those affected by the policy scenario change proposed are located in rural areas”.

It continues: “There are some areas of Suffolk where there is no school within two or three miles. However, if free travel is important to a family then they will need to ensure that they apply for their nearest school to qualify”.

Three-tier middle and upper schools would see the greatest impact if the proposed went ahead.

The report says that “the Cabinet’s vision for Suffolk travel is to create more travel options that help residents learn, work and socialise; to encourage green and healthy alternatives such as walking, cycling and sharing vehicles; and to reduce the impact of rural isolation on children, young people, families and communities”.

The first consultation on the proposed changes will start on October 2, and end on December 22.

The county council’s report says: “Consultation on these changes is very important.

“The council will work with the Consultation Institute and propose an inclusive consultation with a broad range of affected residents, schools, post-16 providers and transport operators.”

The cabinet decision on the proposed changes will take place on March 20 next year. ‘Engagement on how to get to school’ and network brokering will also start in March.

If approved, the changes will be implemented on September 2, 2019.