A proposal to seek people’s views on potential changes to home to school transport arrangements in County Durham will be considered by councillors next week.
Durham County Council currently provides home to school transport for almost 9,000 children and young people across the county every day.
Growing demand and inflation have seen the cost of providing the service rise to £24.3m this year, with a further increase of £4.8m forecast next year.
And following a detailed review of home to school transport arrangements in 2021, a number of changes aimed at transforming the service are now being proposed.
Members of the council’s cabinet will consider a proposal to carry out a full public consultation when they meet on Wednesday, February 8.
Cllr Ted Henderson, cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We have a statutory duty to provide free transport to and from schools and colleges to children and young people who meet specified criteria.
“This includes children with special educational needs and disabilities as well as those pupils who attend schools a specified distance from their homes, with the distance varying depending on their age and circumstances.
“But in County Durham, we currently go above and beyond our statutory duty by providing home to school transport to pupils who don’t qualify for free transport under our statutory obligations.
“All in all, it’s a huge and complex daily operation that involves over 1,000 transport routes and 300 contracted suppliers.
“We’ve also seen costs soar in recent years due to rising fuel prices and wages, inflation, and growing demand. More steep rises are forecast in future.”
The proposals include an increase in the charge for concessionary fares to bring them into line with commercial fares, and work to explore potential efficiencies in how journeys and passenger assistants are provided.
Other proposals include the introduction of a new programme to help children with special educational needs and disabilities learn the skills they need to travel independently, where safe and appropriate, and making it simpler and easier for parents and carers to access Personal Travel Budgets so they can make their own travel choices.
Physical works to improve routes currently classified as “unsafe” are also proposed, as making them safe would enable some pupils to walk or cycle to school, which can contribute to their health and wellbeing.
“We know our home to school transport service is very highly valued by parents, carers, children and young people,” said Cllr Henderson.
“But like any service, it’s important that we deliver it in the safest and most efficient way possible.
“These proposals are based on an in-depth review of our home to school transport arrangements, which we commissioned in 2021.
“The proposed changes would bring us more into line with similar councils.
“We know pupils, parents and carers will want all the details and to have their say on any changes, and if this report is agreed by Cabinet next week we’ll be doing a full and thorough public consultation.
“That will involve a full programme of engagement including focus groups and surveys and providing people with clear information.
“We will be listening to what everybody has to say and no decisions will be made until all feedback has been taken into consideration.”
If agreed, a full public consultation will take place between Monday, February 27, and Wednesday, April 12, ahead of a final decision being made by cabinet in the summer.