Flintshire Council has pledged that no children will be abandoned at bus stops when the new school year starts, despite a major transport shake-up.
The local authority has carried out a review of bus services for youngsters who don’t attend their nearest suitable school and are therefore not entitled to free travel.
The phasing out of non-statutory services means some pupils will have to walk to their secondary school from this week, while parents will be charged a fee of £450 a year if they choose to buy concessionary bus passes.
The move has been met with a backlash in the county, but senior officials said the authority was no longer able to afford to meet the costs.
However, arrangements have been put in place to ensure children will be able to get to school safely when the new term starts on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
It includes council staff being placed on buses to help pupils affected by the changes, while emergency mini buses will be on call if necessary.
Council leader Ian Roberts said the measures, which will also see marshals located along new walking routes, would only be in place for two weeks to allow parents to get used to the changes.
He said: “We take our responsibilities as a council very seriously and we will not have young people left at the roadside, but these arrangements will only be in place until a week on Friday.
“As a council we are spending way above other authorities on school transport.
“Ina neighbouring authority area, if you choose to send your child to a school other than your designated one then it’s just accepted that you pay for your transport.
“With choice comes the responsibility of getting your child to the school of your choice.
“We’re acting within the law and I believe we’re demonstrating that we’re a caring council by providing these arrangements until a week on Friday.”
Legally, the council only needs to provide free transport for secondary school pupils who live three miles or further from their nearest suitable school and two miles or more for primary schools.
It said parents of youngsters who aren’t eligible had been given notice to allow them to make alternative arrangements.
Letters will also be sent home to families of children travelling without a permit in the coming days.
A senior officer said the cost of providing school bus services in Flintshire currently stands at approximately £750 per pupil at a time when the authority needs to make savings of £13.5m in the next year.
Steve Jones, chief officer for Streetscene and transportation, said in some cases the council had been required to step in following the collapse of commercial bus companies, but was no longer able to plug the gap.
He said: “This is about being consistent so that every parent has the right to choose a school, but the responsibility to get their child to that school lies with the parent.
“It can’t be that the council is providing a service in one area of the county without providing it in another
By Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here).