Frequently asked questions

Changes to school services from September 2021

The council contracts with bus operators to provide school buses for children who are eligible for transport assistance under national law as reflected in the council’s school transport policy.

The council’s current contracts had been in place many years and ended in July 2021. This has provided the opportunity to assess passenger use and ensure that new contracts provide value for money to the taxpayer.

Over time, many of the council-run bus services had reached a situation where there were very few eligible children on the buses – in the 2020/21 academic year there were 20 routes that carried no eligible children at all.

Although the Council collects payment from parents who wish to purchase a spare seat on our buses for their non-eligible children, it does not cover the full costs and the Council’s spend on school transport has been increasing, with over £8 million spent last year on school bus services.

It is not best use of taxpayers’ money for us to continue to run bus services that are mainly used by non-eligible students and which contribute to the Council’s year on year overspend on school transport.

For this reason, we have worked with local commercial bus companies so that those routes that carry few or no eligible children are taken over as commercial school bus routes from September 2021.

Across the wider council-run school bus network, we have taken the opportunity to retender contracts with changed bus routes and stopping points so that, from September 2021, services focus on carrying eligible children in the most cost-efficient way possible.

The Council’s bus prices are set at a standard rate across the county and are set out here on our Spare Seat Scheme pages. Although parents of non-eligible children pay for available spare seats on Council-run school bus services, the amount received in charges is a contribution only and does not reflect the full costs of running the service.

Although we inform commercial bus companies of our charges, their services are run independently of the Council, and they are free to set tariffs at a level which makes it commercially viable for them to operate a given route. This means that although some commercial routes will charge rates similar to the Council’s, in other cases the price might be higher.

From September 2021 we have changed school bus services so that we can focus on transporting those children who are eligible for free school transport. This means that there will be fewer spare seats available than has previously been the case. All children who had a paid-for seat on a council-run school bus and who want a seat on a bus from September 2021 had the opportunity to buy a seat on a commercial bus – either one run for school children only or a public bus or train. We worked with commercial bus companies to provide additional school bus services on which parents can purchase tickets. Companies are advertising their tickets for sale on their own websites to help parents plan for their child’s travel to school.

There were also a small number of spare seats on Council-run services. Applications for available spare seats on the Council Spare Seat Scheme opened at noon on 28 June and closed on 19 July. Due to lower passenger numbers than anticipated, additional spare seats were released for application from noon on 4 August and closed at noon on 16 August. These include some routes that were not previously advertised.

Applications for seats for the Autumn Term have now closed. Applications for any available spare seats for the Spring Term 2022 will open on 1 November 2021.

Except for applications with priority, allocations of seats are made on a first come, first served basis, so it’s important that parents apply as soon as possible.

The council makes available any spare seats remaining on school buses for sale (16 plus seater vehicles which run a timetabled route with pick up points from bus stops). Seats are advertised on a termly basis. The council also provides transport using taxis and mini-buses for eligible children. The council's spare seat scheme is for timetabled buses only and no smaller vehicles are advertised with spare seats for sale. With smaller vehicle provision the routes and vehicle size will change more frequently throughout the year as it is a door-to-door service not a bus service, and also as the number of eligible children changes. This means that it is much harder to accommodate paid for customers, as we would not wish to sell a spare seat to a parent for their child only to withdraw it the following month. Taxi companies will also make an additional charge for any extra child added and therefore it may not be cost-effective for the council to provide this type of transport.

However, consideration will be given on an exceptional basis to requests for spare seats to be sold on smaller vehicles where a sibling is transported on the same vehicle.

Priority of allocations is set out in our transport policy and our terms and conditions of transport, and can be summarised as follows:

  1. renewal applications
  2. looked After Children or former Looked After Children who have been adopted
  3. students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP)
  4. children of Armed Forces personnel - in line with our duty as part of the Buckinghamshire Armed Forces Covenant
  5. siblings of students allocated a place in priority 1 and siblings of eligible students travelling on the same route.
  6. all others - on a first come first served basis from date of application.

If you fall within one of the priority groups you will be required to provide evidence as part of the application process.

Renewal applications (priority 1) are applications on behalf of children who have had spare seat on the same bus route in the previous academic year and who wish to purchase a seat on the same bus.

The companies running commercial school routes are all experienced at providing such services. To run a bus route all companies must be licensed by the Traffic Commissioner who enforce vehicle maintenance and driving standards. All drivers must be trained to the national Driver Certificate of Professional Competence standard.

Although the routes will be operated independently of the Council, the commercial companies have confirmed that all of their drivers will continue to be DBS checked in the same way as for Council routes.

Because these bus routes are run on a commercial basis, they rely on sufficient ticket sales to make them commercially viable. For this reason operators may choose to change routes and pick up points to attract additional customers. We have asked all bus operators to ensure parents are given good notice of any change in timetables or stopping points before any changes and made.

Council-run School bus routes - We have retendered all of our contracts with the operators of Council-run bus services, as the previous contracts came to an end in July. As part of this retendering, we have taken the opportunity to make changes to routes and stopping places. The list of Council-run school bus routes and stops for the 2021/22 academic year is available on the website.

Commercial dedicated school buses - We have worked with commercial bus companies for them to take over some bus routes previously run by the Council which carry mainly paying pupils. The list of these routes together with links to the operating companies is now available online.

However, there are other routes available from different local bus firms in addition to those listed on our website, and these can be found on the individual companies’ websites.

Public transport options are also published on the website.

In determining the routes provided by the Council, an assessment was made on the impact on passengers and the transport network. All existing paying passengers had the opportunity to buy a seat on a commercial school bus or on a public bus or train. This means that there will be no additional net car usage as a result of these changes.

The average journey time for school bus journeys on Council provided bus routes will remain overall unchanged from September 2021. Because we are changing the details of routes individual journey times will change. We published our timetables on 13 August on our website.

The Council provides school buses for children who are eligible for transport assistance due to distance, low income, unsafe walking route, or special needs and disability. Any spare seats remaining on the school buses are then sold to parents who do not qualify for Council transport assistance.

This has been the Council’s policy for many years. In Autumn 2019 the Council undertook a first round of commercialisation which increased the number of privately provided school buses. Owing to Covid the second round of commercialisation was delayed by one year and is now taking place.

The changes that took place from September 2021 enabled a full implementation of the Council’s existing policy.

All school buses are contracted out and the previous contracts ended in July 2021. This provided the opportunity to assess current passenger use and ensure that new contracts are set up to provide value for money and are in accordance with the Council’s policy.

We do not provide tickets for local bus services. Route and operator details can be found on the travel line website or our commercial school buses page.

For bus routes that are run on a commercial basis, the decisions on routes and timings are decided by the bus companies independently of the Council. The Council is responsible for determining school bus routes and timings for the school buses that it provides but legally does not have authority to determine bus routes and timings which are provided in the private sector.

Each company will determine their bus route depending on demand from parents to buy tickets and will be looking to ensure the bus route is financially viable. The Council’s public transport team has engaged with bus operators to support them to plan the details of viable bus routes to meet parental demand, however any decisions on whether to run a bus, what routes to run, and when, are not the Council’s decision.

Yes. During the lockdown period from January to March 2021 the Council wrote to all parents who purchased tickets on council run school buses to confirm that a credit against future travel would be made. This credit was made automatically against customer accounts.

For all those parents who no longer have the opportunity for their child to continue to travel on a council-run school bus from September 2021 (because a Council provided school bus is no longer running in that area or because a child is finishing school and no longer requires transport) the Council will pay a refund for a half-terms’ worth of travel. Refunds will not be paid to renewal customers but rather an equivalent discount will be applied against ticket renewal for purchasing a seat for Autumn 2021.

Automatic refunds were paid to those parents who no longer have a Council provided school bus running in their area and parents of year 13 children who qualify for a refund, as above, by the end of July 2021. Any other refund requests from parents affected who are unable to renew their child’s transport with the Council (and therefore not able to access the discount offered) will be considered individually. Please apply here.

The list of Council bus routes for September is final and will not change to provide extra routes or additional vehicles. The Council’s spare seat application process provides details of routes with available spare seats.

Spare seat availability is based on the Council ensuring that all eligible children have a bus seat and that all children who already have a spare seat on the bus have the opportunity to renew. The routes with spare seats available are then advertised.

Applications for seats for the Autumn Term have now closed. Applications for any available spare seats for the Spring Term 2022 will open on 1 November 2021.

For more information go to our Spare Seat Scheme page.


School buses; routes, timetables and passes

Contact Us giving their child’s name, date of birth and the boarding point they wish to change to.

  • There is an admin fee of £13 for the new pass
  • There may also be a change to the charge depending on the distance of the new boarding point to school.

Free transport: Contact Us  giving  your child’s name, date of birth and the boarding point they wish to change to. There is an admin fee of £13 for the new pass. 

Spare Seat Scheme: Contact us and we will let you know if we are able to change your boarding point. Spare Seats are very limited so we may not be able to accommodate your request.

If you have changed address, please Contact Us. 

Please apply for a replacement pass using our online form  

You will need to click on the green button and enter your child’s 5 or 6 digit number found on the letter with their original pass.

The school reception / office can give you a 5 day pass to cover the period they are waiting for the new pass.

You will need to contact the operator of the service your child is on. This information was provided with your child’s bus pass (Operator, Service number and timetable).

Please check our Bus Problems web page. If the contract your child travels on has not been reported, please use the Contact Us Form  to report the issue. 

Free eligible

If your child is entitled to free transport the bus passes will be issued to the home address before the start of the new academic year. See the timeline here.

Spare Seat Scheme

If you were offered a place on the Spare Seat Scheme, have paid for your child’s transport, and have not received their bus pass within 14 days, please Contact Us  giving your child’s name, date of birth and the bus service on which they have a place.

If your child was not travelling on their bus service in the summer term or if you normally pay and have not renewed then you will need to re-apply through the Spare Seat Scheme for the autumn term. Please note places cannot be guaranteed.


School buses; buying a spare seat on a council provided school bus

  • Before the start of the new academic year / half term / term
    YES although for a full refund the application will need to be made prior to the start of the new academic year / half term / term that you are cancelling for.
  • Within the academic year (Annual/DD Payers)
    Yes however you will need to pay for the remainder of the current term you are in. Once the third (summer) term has started, no refund is available for the remainder of that term.
  • Within the Term/ Half term (Termly and Half Termly Payers)
    No, you are not entitled to a refund.

Please complete the refund form

Refund request form

Your direct debit payments will either be taken on 1st or 17th month (customer choice) 1st first payment will be September, October or November depending when you were offered a place on home to school transport. 

If you have missed a Direct Debit payment please contact us.

Below are the main points which should hopefully answer any queries:

  • You will need to activate your online account via the email which was sent to you when you signed up online. 
  • Your child’s customer reference numbers will remain the same, the only difference is that when going to pay, all new users will need to create a new account.
  • If your email address has already been activated and you have forgotten your password you will need to change your password by selecting 'Forgotten your Password?'. 

Details of how the scheme operates are set out on the Spare Seat Scheme page.

Any continuing student who is travelling on a Council Bus to the same school, on the same bus route.

This includes Year 11 students moving into sixth form at the same school, on the same bus route.

For example, if the student is changing school and wants to go on a different bus route then they are not classed as a renewal customer.


Transport assistance for children with special educational needs or disabilities

All decisions on for free home to school transport for those that have an existing Education, Heath and Care Plan (EHCP – Formally statement of Special Educational Needs) are made by our SEN Team. 

Find out more about SEND free transport eligibility here.

If your child is 16+ and has SEND, they may be eligible for travel assistance.

Find out more here.

View our SEND transport guidance for parents and carers.

Who can I contact?

SEN transport eligibility and EHC plans

SEN Team
Walton Street Offices
Walton Street
HP20 1UZ

Phone: 01296 382269

Contact Us form

Transport eligibility and school admissions

Admissions and Transport Team
Walton Street Offices
HP20 1UZ

Contact Us form

Queries on transport (not transport  eligibility)

Client Transport
Walton Street Offices
HP20 1YZ

Phone: 01296 387439

Contact Us form


Last updated: 20 October 2021

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