05 January 2011

Cheap fares under threat

FEARS are growing over plans to axe cheap bus fares for Plymouth schoolchildren.

The city council has proposed cutting all concessionary school transport not made compulsory by law from September this year. The change could affect hundreds of pupils who receive free school meals. Critics have described it as "deeply worrying", saying care must be taken not to disadvantage poorer families. The proposal comes after the council scrapped its cheap fares scheme for students over 16 last September. Cuts are part of measures to fill a £500,000 hole in the school transport budget. Rising numbers of children with medical and behavioural needs who have to be given a free taxi to school, with in some cases two adult escorts, has helped create the overspend.

The council has also proposed to pay parents of special educational needs children the cost of their petrol for taking their children to school rather than hiring taxis. Councillor Nicky Wildy, chair of the council's children and young people overview and scrutiny panel, said: "The possible withdrawal of concessionary fares is really quite serious. "School transport has been over budget for quite a while. We need to ask whether this is the fairest and most equitable way of dealing with it.

The plans are due to be discussed at Thursday's children and young people overview and scrutiny panel. The council is obliged by the Government to provide transport for all special educational needs children up to the age of 16 who are unable to walk to school. Those who are forced to go to a school which is more than a designated walking distance also get free transport. The council's own concessionary scheme steps in to help those who also get free school meals – it is this scheme which is at risk. It enables pupils to travel for 60p per single journey before 9am and between 2pm and 6pm on First or Citybus. At present the council's overall budget for transport is £3,127,351, but in September the reported overspend for 2010/11 was £512,000.
This is Plymouth

A quick note to highlight a program on the BBC tonight:
Documentary which takes a glorious journey back to the 1950s, when the coach was king. From its early origins in the charabanc, the coach had always been the people's form of transport. Cheaper and more flexible than the train, it allowed those who had travelled little further than their own villages and towns a first heady taste of exploration and freedom. It was a safe capsule on wheels from which to venture out into a wider world. The distinctive livery of the different coach companies was part of a now lost world, when whole communities crammed into coach after coach en route to pleasure spots like Blackpool, Margate and Torquay. With singsongs, toilet stops and the obligatory pub halt, it didn't matter how long it took to get there because the journey was all part of the adventure
BBC4 21:00

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