Bus pass policy is ‘archaic’

Sid, Molly and Alfie Sagon, with Holly Bullock and Mia Lloyd
Sid, Molly and Alfie Sagon, with Holly Bullock and Mia Lloyd

A school bus pass system has led to uproar among parents who say they are having to fork out money to get their children to school – while others are getting the service for free.

Legislation imposed by central government means Suffolk County Council is not obliged to provide free transport to pupils living within three miles of their school, providing there is a route which is considered safe to walk if accompanied by an adult.

Laura Lloyd, of Roman Way, Long Melford, says that all children living in rural areas where it is dangerous, difficult or unrealistic for them to walk to their school, should be issued with a free pass.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Mia, goes to Uplands Middle School in Sudbury, but was told she was not entitled to a bus pass because she is just within the three-mile radius to get to school.

Mrs Lloyd says it is an hour’s walk along a dangerous main road and that a partially empty school bus, which picks up children from the other end of the village, passes her daughter on the way to school.

But if her daughter wanted to use this service, she would have to pay £160 a term, despite the fact that children just a few streets away get the same service for free.

Mrs Lloyd said: “At the moment, there is no way of splitting the costs of the school bus by paying weekly or monthly, so we have to send her on a normal bus at a cost of £2 a day.”

“It just seems to me that this is an archaic system and is not looking at the full picture.

“If there’s already a school bus from Long Melford that has enough spaces, why shouldn’t all children from Long Melford be allowed on it for free?”

A spokesman for the council said: “The threshold for students receiving free transport is three miles. This distance threshold is set by central government and is not a council policy matter.

“We do, however, recognise where the case is a borderline one that this can cause difficulties, and we offer a discretionary place on the bus at a cost of £160 per term. Over the school year, this equates to £2.52 per school day.”

The spokesman said they were looking into ways of spreading the cost for parents, although he added this was not likely to happen “anytime soon”.

The spokesman admitted this “arbitrary figure” posed more of a problem in rural areas than it did in cities, but said the council did not have the power to change the rules or make exceptions.