A scheme which lets pupils use spare seats on school buses even if they aren’t entitled to free transport is being recommended for closure.

Bus stop

The temporary vacant seat scheme was suspended by Staffordshire County Council earlier this year.

Officials said it was an “unfair and unworkable” system, but delayed a final decision while it sought views as to whether a fair and legal solution could be found.

But a new report to the county council’s cabinet says that has not happened and it is now recommending permanent closure.

Cllr Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for education, said:

“Earlier this year I said that updated Government legislation had left the council with a non-statutory service that could not be applied fairly and evenly across the county and placed a burden on taxpayers.

“I said then that we would not reinstate the suspended temporary vacant seat scheme unless a reasonable and workable solution could be found.

“Having undertaken a six-week listening exercise, to which less than 1% of the school population responded, no such solution has been found.”

Cllr Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council

The report also recommends using information from the public engagement to work with operators to amend existing routes, where viable, to provide options for students not eligible for free school transport.

There are currently around 8,000 children using free school transport across 900 routes in Staffordshire.

The county council said around 300 pupils were able to use the temporary vacant seat scheme.

The decision will not affect those entitled to free school transport.

Cllr Price said the closure was in part due to a lack of vehicles that meet new regulations.

“We are constrained by updated Government guidance on disability access, which is years ahead of the reality on the ground – the commercial operators from whom we commission services simply do not have enough vehicles to comply.

“Many rural local authorities are facing the same problem and due to the limited availability of compliant public service vehicles we cannot operate the temporary scheme fairly.

“We have a situation where identical children in different parts of the county could travel for free, pay £700 or more, or have no opportunity to use the scheme at all.

“It’s costing us money to administer a system which will be unfair and a lottery across the county.

“Until private operators have vehicle fleets that meet disability legislation there is nothing we can consider.”

Cllr Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council

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1 Comment

  1. Hi if you stop these students using the bus service how are they going to get to school. Also why can’t you provide a Bus service In Hammerwich and surrounding areas. ?? . Me and lots of Residents in Hammerwich are isolated . Please Please do something about it Please . Mrs Susan Pinnock 20 Overtone Lane Hammerwich .

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