Monday, April 15, 2013

Cardiff schoolchildren could ride for free on bus services around the city

Pupils across Cardiff could be travelling to school by public buses 
Pupils across Cardiff could be travelling to school by public buses
 By posted on WalesOnLine website 15/4/2013

A Welsh city council is set to investigate if it can afford to provide free transport on public buses for pupils at schools across Cardiff instead of using private coach contracts.

A review has been launched into whether free transport to and from school could be provided to every pupil in Cardiff.

Cardiff council is investigating  if it can afford to fund a trial for the city’s 50,000 schoolchildren to ride for free on bus services with the general public. It is one of six options being  considered as part of a review into alternative ways the council could provide home to  school transport.

Wales’ biggest local authority spends £2.5m a year transporting 5,200 youngsters through 85 private coach contracts. This doesn’t include children transported by taxi.

Councils are obliged to  provide free transport for secondary school pupils who live more than three miles from school or more than two miles for primary schoolchildren.

Labour-run Cardiff also  provides “discretionary” transport for 2,000 pupils who live within the distance limit but  attend, for example, a Welsh-medium or faith school.

Councillor Ralph Cook, cabinet member for transport, said the contracts with coach firms were unaffordable. He wants to see if some, if not all, of the coach routes could be stopped by having schoolchildren travel on regular bus services for free.

As well as a cost-saving, Councillor Cook hopes it will encourage the city’s youngsters to continue to use public transport once they leave school.

“If we were creating a culture of public transport use through taking kids to school I could see a significant benefit, but we are not doing that,” Coun Cook said.
“We are offering a bespoke coach service from home to school - it’s not public transport.
“I have spoken to children and they all tell me they do not use buses because they are not  cool, but they are perfectly happy to use coaches.
“But if you grow up using public transport all the time, whether it’s cool or not does not become a part of it, it’s just  how you get around.”

In an attempt to allay the safety concerns of parents, the council will look at placing school bus escorts who currently ride on the contracted coaches on certain bus routes.

The cost of providing free bus transport for all 50,000 pupils  would be “enormous”, Coun Cook said, but many live close  enough to walk or cycle. Talks will also be held with operators such as Cardiff Bus to see if they would be prepared to transport schoolchildren before and after school at vastly reduced fares.

“It’s in the bus company’s interest to get kids on a bus for  the whole of their school lives  because they then will grow up  to be fee-paying adult passengers,” Councillor Cook said. “If bus companies are able to run their routes now without running significant losses, could they be persuaded to  provide cheap seats to kids? It’s extra bums on seats and extra pennies in the coffers.”

Peter Heath, of Cardiff Bus, said: “From our point of view  we think it’s a sensible move where there is duplicity between a school coach and the local bus network. We carry children of all ages to and from school as it is, so you are just moving children from one designated service to  another.”

Councillor Judith Woodman, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “Clearly they are  looking to save money, but we  do have to put the safety of  children first. As long as it is safe and gets them to school on time, whether it’s Cardiff Bus that provides it is, I think, pretty irrelevant. What we do not want is children having to change bus.”

The council recently axed £52,000 in funding for two discretionary coach services which transported children from Caerau attending St Francis Primary and pupils from St Mellons attending St John Lloyd RC Primary.

As part of the review, the authority will look at whether it can afford to pay for the pupils affected by the cuts to travel for free on existing local bus services.

Another option in the review is for children to pay the fares themselves with the council funding a bus escort to support  them. One of the two options will be trialled this year. According to a report to last week’s cabinet meeting, any wider changes to school transport are unlikely to be introduced before the start of the 2015 school year and would be subject to consultation.


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