CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Executive Board is updating its school transport spare seat policy, following changes to national legislation.
It is also proposing that the £50 administrative charge for spare seats on council-run school buses be ended and will also look at a wider review of school transport policy.
The announcements follow new UK-wide legislation affecting all local authorities in England and Wales, which means all commercially provided bus services must meet disability access measures.
This has meant commercially-provided school buses in Carmarthenshire – and around the UK – that do not meet the legislation have been withdrawn. This is not a council decision.
The authority has lobbied the Welsh and UK governments for a change to the rules to allow an exemption for services provided for schools.
The council has also committed to reviewing school transport.
In Carmarthenshire, the council provides free school transport for 8,500 pupils who live further than three miles from their secondary school and two miles from their primary school.
The new legislation affects families that live closer than three miles of their secondary school, or two miles from their primary school, who are not eligible for free school transport and where it is the parents’ responsibility.
Around 18,500 pupils who are not entitled to transport already make their own way to school.
Cllr Hazel Evans, Executive Board Member for Environment, said: “We understand there are some families affected by this new legislation. We empathise completely but this is a national issue, and not a Council decision. However, we will carry out a general review of school transport policy.”
She added: “We have worked closely with schools to provide information about public transport and will continue to lobby the Welsh and UK governments to re-think the application of national UK legislation.”
This is an issue that the council is unable to control and arises from Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliance regulations affecting public transport services which came into force on January 1, 2020
Following a challenge by disability rights groups, the legislation was strengthened in July 2019 to cover school transport vehicles. The council and operators of commercial bus services were advised of this change in July/August 2019. Many commercial service providers withdrew services from September. Others continued to provide services up until the legislation came in to force on January 1, 2020. The council already provides free home to school transport for pupils with disabilities or additional needs (regardless of how far they live from their school) using specialist vehicles.
This issue does not affect pupils who are eligible for free home to school transport because they live further than three miles from a secondary school, or two miles from their primary school. The council provides free transport for 8,500 eligible pupils at a cost of £9million a year.
The walking distance of three miles from a secondary school, or two miles from a primary school, is prescribed by the Welsh Government’s Welsh Learner Travel Measure
The transportation of pupils who live within the walking distance to their school is a parental responsibility
Available walking routes to school are assessed in accordance with nationally prescribed criteria.
Extending the provision of free school transport for an additional 18,500 ineligible pupils would cost the council over £15million – this is not financially viable, neither are there enough buses
If the council has spare seats on the buses it provides, it makes these available. The council is proposing that there will no longer be a £50 administrative charge for these spare seats, which can be applied for each September. There is limited number of spare seats available on school buses, they are allocated in accordance with the council’s Spare Seat Policy.
If a school bus service is operated commercially by a private company to fare-paying passengers it must provide full disabled access. Several providers in Carmarthenshire are unable to meet the legislation either because of availability of compliant vehicles and the high cost associated with providing fully DDA compliant vehicles.