Update on new commercial school transport routes
Last week the County Council announced the roll-out of over 1400 commercially-run school bus places. These places will convert from the current arrangement of being commissioned by the Council to be provided by external, commercial operators from Monday 4 November.
We have set up some commercial routes Q&A webpages to help parents and carers understand these changes and address any questions or concerns they may have about how the new commercial routes will work.
How will the transfer to commercial routes work?
Parents of children who are moving to commercial routes from 4 November have been informed that they will need to make contact with the new operators by early December to confirm and pay for their transport arrangements for the term starting in January 2020.
We have written to all parents moving to commercial routes with detailed information on the changes and what they need to do. This letter also reassures parents that they do not need to take any action immediately because their transport is already confirmed on the new commercial route from 4 November to end December.
For those parents who have already paid the County Council in full for an annual school transport bus pass, we are arranging refunds for the remainder of the school year from January 2020. The refunds will be processed during November so that parents have cleared funds returned to them before the end of November, before needing to pay anything further direct to the new operator in early December. We are also making transfer arrangements for those who currently pay by direct debit.
All temporary bus passes currently in use will remain valid for this term until end of December, when families will receive an updated pass from the operator for the January term, after having confirmed their travel with the new operator.
Commercial route timetables:
Some of these commercial services will run on a different timetable. For the passengers the timetable changes apply to, we have contacted families in advance to make sure they understand the changes to their particular service and are prepared for when the changes come into operation on 4 November. A small number of journeys are lengthened by 20 or 25 minutes, but the majority of journeys (55.6%) will stay the same with no changes, with 21.5% having a shorter journey time overall.
Commercial routes open to the public to use:
A number of the commercial routes will be open for the wider public to use and therefore will not be dedicated for school children. We have been successfully placing children onto public routes for some time as part of our standard practice and many other councils across the UK operate on the same basis. In practice, we find the majority of passengers using public school routes are school students.
We have ensured there is a commitment from the commercial route operators that they will deliver to the standard we would expect from our commissioned routes. This includes a commitment to ensuring appropriate safeguarding of children whilst travelling, and assurances that operators will not make major changes to route timings or prices part-way through the year.
There are a number of benefits to the use of commercial bus services for school age passengers; ticket prices are often cheaper for all users of the bus services and the services are more sustainable in the longer-term. Importantly, these services also provide additional travel options for the wider community including those residents who only have access to public transport.