Rural School Transport Action Group Continue to Campaign

Statement for and on behalf of the Rural School Transport Action Group:

The Rural School Transport Action Group continue to campaign for a legal and fair solution tothe current suspension of the Vacant Seat School Transport Scheme in Staffordshire.

Please take the time to digest the information contained in this statement and support us to ensure 300+ young people living in rural areas do not continue to be disadvantaged and
discriminated against.

It has been brought to our attention that a number of rural areas have developed a solution to the school transport issue and introduced a combined, twice daily bus service for school
children and paid passengers. Effectively solving 2 issues for those of all ages living in rural
areas. This allows young people of school age not eligible for free school transport to pay the bus operator and the council then pay them also to transport the statutory eligible children on the same service.

Similarly young people 11-18 years old in Eccleshall now have access to a similar service on the 8am bus, which again allows members of the public living in rural areas to travel into Stafford.

Running schemes such as these described above will not only solve the issue of suspension
of the vacant seat scheme for school aged children but also offer much needed transport to
those who are currently cut off due to their being no public transport in rural areas.

As I’m sure you are aware many rural bus services were abolished because they were
underused and deemed not viable to run. By allowing statutory entitled school children and
fee paying passengers to travel on these buses, a public transport void affecting many people of all ages could be filled. Below is a summary of how it would work:-

1. School transport would pay the bus operator the cost of the number of seats required for
students eligible for statutory transport.
2. Any remaining seats can then be sold by the bus operator to the 300+ children trying to
access school who are not entitled for statutory transport. The general public would also have the option of accessing this transport too.
3. This would mean that rural areas would have a bus service again. The bus service would
therefore not be subsidised by the parish council but instead funded by the school transport
service (who already pay for statutory entitled children to travel) and parents of children not entitled to free school transport (who have historically paid for vacant seats and still want to pay).

In summary our proposal is of NO COST to Staffordshire County Council.

4. There would be a temporary period where Staffordshire County Council would have to
provide free of charge passes on non compliant transport, although this scheme would
incentivise both bus operators (increased revenue) and Staffordshire County Council to
provide PSVAR compliant transport, as set out in Department of Transport regulations, laid
out in 2000.

It has been disappointing for our campaign group that Staffordshire County Council have hadvery little desire to engage in meaningful, proactive discussion, working together for a positive resolution of the issue. No assessment of need for working families was completed.

The sudden suspension of the vacant seat scheme did not take into account the majority of working parents do not have the luxury of working school hours or flexible working, allowing them to drop off and pick up their child at school times, effectively leaving them with no alternative options.

We therefore appeal to Staffordshire County Council and suggest that they should be
motivated to join us in ensuring a fair and legal solution is achieved, which would be beneficial for both rural public transport and those families currently struggling due to suspension of the vacant seat scheme.

There are college students (16-18) who can’t get to college but legally have to, since education is mandatory for them. School children who can’t get to school, apprentices who can’t get to work, not everyone has access to their own transport.

Considering the current global climate emergency and Staffordshire County Council’s
commitment to cut carbon emissions, we had expected the local authority to be more invested in working with us, as our proposal could be a solution from an environmental perspective also.

As a group we feel it is necessary to again reiterate that WE ARE NOT looking for financial
solutions, we are only looking for your support in trying to reinstate the vacant scheme or your commitment to set up a new one as suggested above. Families living in rural areas need an option to ensure their child can get to school, whether that is via the vacant seat scheme or public transport in rural areas, working families just need an option!

As a community we want the best for our young people and believe the county council have a moral duty to be a transport facilitator of last resort for these young people living in rural areas, regardless of a lack of legal obligation.

Tony Walley
Tony Walley
News & Sport Editor

Must Read

Local Sport