PARENTS across North Yorkshire with children who use home to school transport are being consulted on planned changes including charges.

In response to a legal challenge North Yorkshire County Council last year suspended the practice of offering spare seats for a charge on most of its home to school services.

Most non-entitled pupils and post-16 students have therefore been travelling for free since September. But this loss of income by a council facing severe financial pressures is not sustainable in the long term.

Similarly, the council is unable to carry the additional annual £2.7 million it would cost to make all home-to school transport accessible. Currently most mainstream home to school transport is not accessible as separate arrangements are made for entitled pupils with mobility needs. As the council already spends in excess of £24 million providing home to school transport across England’s largest county every year, this significant increase would have a serious and negative impact on other council services.

However, as the Government has recently provided exemptions for a period of time for school transport services that carry fewer than 20 per cent of fare-paying passengers, the council is consulting on a new range of options including the re-introduction of charges from September 2020 for non-entitled and post 16 pupils.

The consultation will be open until 19 April and the results reported to the Executive in May

The proposals are:

1. Transport only eligible pupils;

2. Charge for spare seats where it is legal to charge – but do not offer the use of spare seats on vehicles where it would not be lawful to charge;

3. Charge where it is legal to charge and allow other spare seats to be used for free;

4. Charge where it is legal to charge and allow other spare seats to be used for free until July 2021, from then charge for spare seats where it is legal to charge.

“We would like all our home-to-school transport vehicles to be accessible but the cost at the present time and in the legal timescale is prohibitive” said County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s executive member for transport. “It is simply not affordable given the very great pressures on our budget and the fact we still have £19m in savings to find overall. It is of course something we will work to provide through our contractors in the longer term.

“However we know that our long tradition of enabling non-entitled and post-16 pupils to pay for spare seats on home to school transport is very popular and we wish to continue this tradition in some form, for as long as possible. This consultation sets out a way forward and we therefore encourage people to take part.”

The online link to the consultation is here.