People are being invited to have their say on potential changes to home to school transport arrangements in County Durham.
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 soar in recent years.
Next year’s budget for the service includes an increase of £9.6m, taking the service’s overall budget to £29.2m.
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.
As well as looking to ensure value for money, the proposals seek to help develop the independence of children and young people.
The proposals will ensure any child or young person who is eligible for the service under the council’s statutory duty will continue to receive support to travel to school.
• an increase in the charge for concessionary seats to bring them into line with commercial fares – this service is currently provided on a discretionary basis
• the phasing out of some concessionary travel routes that do not fall under the council’s statutory duty
• work to explore potential efficiencies in how journeys and passenger assistants are provided
• a new programme to help children with special educational needs and disabilities learn the skills they need to travel independently, where safe and appropriate
• 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”, which would enable some pupils to walk or cycle to school
Cllr Ted Henderson, cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “Our home to school transport service is a huge and complex daily operation that involves over 1,000 transport routes and 300 contracted suppliers and we know the service is very highly valued by parents, carers, children and young people.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen costs soar in recent years due to rising fuel prices and wages, inflation, and growing demand. More steep rises are forecast in future and 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.
“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 and would bring us more into line with similar councils.
“We’re seeking the views of parents, carers, pupils, schools, transport providers and other interested parties and we will be listening to what everybody has to say. No decisions will be made until all feedback has been taken into consideration.”
The consultation period runs until Wednesday, April 12, ahead of a final decision being made by Cabinet in the summer.
For full details of the proposals and to take part in the consultation, which includes surveys and online information events, visit www.durham.gov.uk/consultation.
Paper surveys will be available from libraries and Customer Access Points.