County council defends 18 per cent school bus fares rise

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North Yorkshire County Council has defended its decision to increase bus fares for children who do not qualify for free travel by 18 per cent and for students aged over 16 by £100 over the next two years.

Following the move being pushed forward at a non-public meeting on Tuesday, the authority said it had been left with no choice but to increase the charges for its home to school transport if the key service was to be maintained.

The decision is likely to mean the annual school transport charge for sixth-formers rises by 5.24 per cent, in line with inflation, to £650 from September.

In addition, the council is set to charge £50 extra from September and a further £50 more from September 2023 for any spare seats on buses available to children aged five to 16 who do not attend their most local school, bringing their annual bill to £650.

Ahead of the meeting the authority’s opposition leader, Councillor Stuart Parsons, had urged executive members and senior officers to recognise the cost of living crisis by abandoning the proposals and drop all charges to low income families.

Coun Parsons said: “Where do they think people will find all this extra money? They are constantly talking about keeping young people in the area, upskilling people so it becomes a high wage economy, and with this they are basically putting a tax on obligatory education, and that’s completely unacceptable.

“It’s ludicrous as everyone’s talking about the cost of living crisis. This will make life more and more difficult for families that cannot afford all these increases. What they’re doing is pricing young people out of the education they’re entitled to.”

Stuart Carlton, the council’s corporate director of children and young people’s services, said following a consultation in 2018, a decision was made to gradually increase the contribution made by families of pupils not eligible for free home-to-school transport where there were spare seats on a school bus service.

He said the process had been due to be completed in coming school year and would have seen contributions rise by £100 for those using any spare seats on school transport.

Mr Carlton said: “The decision was taken in consultation with the executive member for education and skills to limit the increase to £50, staggering it over an additional year. Support will also continue for families on low incomes, which will benefit from an overall discount of 50 per cent on the cost.

“We don’t have a statutory duty to provide transport to young people in post-16 education and to pupils who don’t qualify for home-to-school transport, but we wish to continue to offer this service wherever we can. Unfortunately, this means increasing the cost.

“This charge does not cover the full cost of transporting students and is still only a contribution towards the full amount, with the rest met by the county council.”