A Labour county councillor is calling on Carmarthenshire county council to purchase electric buses to solve the problems within the school bus service provision across the county, which he claims means that some children get a bus to school, while others are forced to walk up to 3 miles.
Wales News Online reported on the issue in December 2019.
In short, the legislation brought in by the Department for Transport means many pupils who use commercial school bus services as a fare-paying passenger will no longer be able to do so. The changes came in to effect on January 1 throughout the UK. A number of local bus operators have, for many years, run commercial services to cater for pupils who live closer to their secondary school than the statutory three-mile walking distance. The legislation says they can no longer do so unless they provide full disabled access vehicles. Pupils who live beyond the walking distance and who are eligible for free transport, are unaffected by the changes.
The issue has become a hot political potato with Llanelli’s MP Nia Griffith, AM Lee Waters and a number of Labour County Councillors pointing the finger at the Conservative government and the Plaid Cymru Led administration in Carmarthenshire.
Cllr Rob James who represents the Lliedi ward has started a petition, which has just over 300 signatures to date. Councillors have also started a Facebook page, which has become the sounding board for a number of concerned and disgruntled parents of children affected by the changes.
Cllr James posted: “ Last week, I wrote to the Plaid Cymru Leader of Council to call an emergency meeting to discuss measures that could ensure that transport was available for pupils for next week.
Our Transport Spokesperson, Cllr Dot Jones, also contacted the Chief Executive and the Director of Education, however they were on holidays until the 6th.
“No meeting was called and there are now very little options for families.
“On Tuesday I will be joining other Carmarthenshire Labour Councillors to travel on commercial buses (if available) or walk the Council’s recommended route to get an insight of the safety concerns of many parents and pupils.
“This week we have meetings with key officers to continue to push for action from the Council. We also be working with Lee Waters AM and Nia Griffiths MP on this matter.”
In another post Cllr James attacked the Plaid Cymru Led administration stating:
“The legislation is almost twenty years old and there has been plenty of time to prepare. It’s time for Carmarthenshire Council to step in and use Council reserves to fund the continuation of services.
“Reserves are for a rainy day. Plaid Cymru Councillors need to look outside…it’s raining and our kids are getting soaked.”
Cllr James has also proposed following the example set by Pembrokeshire County Council to look at whether there is the ability to not enforce the legislation as its open to challenge for school transport. He has also proposed extending the free buses to over 2 miles.
Nia Griffith MP expressed her concern that no one was available to discuss the issue stating:
Really concerned that school bus situation still not resolved. Key County personnel not available this last week. Will pursue vigorously this coming week. Outrageous to leave children walking long distances. Let’s work together to get this sorted
Lee Waters AM said that he was aware that there were still difficulties with a number of routes in Carmarthenshire and that the Welsh Labour government had done its bit to put pressure on the tory government for a two year extension.
He said: “The affected routes are provided by private bus companies on a commercial basis that they run for profit. They have known for 20 years that changes would come in now which would require buses to be fully accessible. The big companies have modernised their buses but many smaller firms have not been able to invest, and have instead withdrawn these services (as any bus company is able to do under the privatised system).
This is a really disappointing state of affairs, I want bus transport to be a proper option for everyone.
“Civil Servants in the Welsh Government have already raised this issue with the Department for Transport in London, and we are writing again to see what can be done.
“All of this demonstrates why the Welsh Government wants to pass a new law to re-regulate bus services. That way we can have more control over the routes bus companies operate. We can also make sure the bus companies use vehicles that don’t exclude our friends and family members who are disabled.
“Lots of people have been in touch about the changes to school buses after Christmas. The Welsh Labour Government has done it’s bit and put pressure on the Tory Government in Westminster to secure a two year extension to the changes in the law. That means the buses can run in the New Year if the council and the companies work together. Our team of Labour councillors will continue to put pressure on Carmarthenshire and the bus companies to make sure the buses keep running.”
On Tuesday, January 7, councillors including Rob James, Deryk Cundy and Dot Jones will walk the routes to school in their areas or take public transport to find out what the children have to endure. Some have been critical of the full gamut of councillors who have not engaged with the public on the issue.
Cllr Deryk Cundy said that he would be walking from the bottom of Station Road to Bryngwyn on Tuesday morning 2.8 miles just to see how long it takes him..
He said: “As you know we have been fighting this for some months now and I believe that we have a moral duty to make sure that the County makes it safe for our children to get to school and home again. I have already said this in the County Council Meeting in October, but we haven’t been able to get the administration to act on this as yet but I am determined to do so.
“As far as I can see there is no public transport that can get the children to either Bryngwyn or Coedcae in time, which is why I am making a point of walking.
“I already appreciate that weather conditions are a major part of this and fully understand the point about sitting in damp clothes.
“None of the Executive Board be walking with myself or Gary to understand the problem but hopefully we can get the issue escalated.”
Many members of the Facebook group aired their concerns including safety issues, isolated paths in darkness, bad weather conditions and cost amongst other things.
Sara John posted: It’s so important that all Children who used Brodyr can be there Tuesday morning. The councillors Rob and Dorothy are coming to help us and they will see first hand how ridiculous it is to cram 40 plus children on a service bus that doesn’t even take them to the school . They will feed back the info to the County and to the Councillors that don’t want to help us!!!
Emma Jones posted: There is no safe points for the children to cross the roads safely
Lisa Campion Christine Richards agree Christine the opposing councillors should walk the route too to get an understanding of the issues. Thank you Deryk for agreeing to walk this route be please be aware that the steps at subway in dafen are cordoned off (Gorsfach side) so have to walk down slope. If its been raining then the subway will be flooded too!
Melinda Hughes posted: The thing is, this change actually only affects around 500 pupils (in Carmarthenshire). The rising cost of the council subsidised transport is part due to closing smaller local schools to save money and then making children travel further for their education, thus making them eligible for free transport. Local children should attend local schools, it’s just creating a culture of people sending children to school many more Miles always for free transport because there is no suitable paid services thus costing councils more. As a parent, I’m happy to pay, but the public service is going to cost 50% more and we are not even sure if it can support all of the children travelling to school.
Melinda told Wales News Online, “I think it would be useful if you could maybe highlight the fact that the legislation has not served its purpose, it hasn’t allowed equality with regards to school transport for those who require adapted buses, but only served to penalise those pupils who pay. Children who need specialist transport still aren’t able to travel on the school buses because they are included in the group of pupils eligible for free school transport and not all buses free buses are adapted. It hasn’t changed the way Carmarthenshire County Council deliver their school transport service, nor has it changed the way children who require adapted transport travel to school, in-fact all it has done is penalise and exclude a different group of children I.e. those who must pay for school buses.”
Rachel Ballard was confused by what appear to be double standards. She posted: That is what I don’t get !! The school buses that parents are paying to take their children back and forth from school, have been stopped because they do not have accessibility for disabled children but yet the free buses, which also do not have the accessibility for disabled children, are still running
Donna Mills offered to pay for a pass to get her child on a bus to school. She posted: I have lost faith nothing will get done. Yes my child lives within the 3 mile radius, I have offered to pay for a pass which has been rejected. No reason given! I really don’t want my 13 year old daughter walking home in the dark through Llanelli town.
Anne-Marie Francis highlighted the logistical difficulty the new legislation has thrown up. She posted: We live 2.8miles away from Stradey and my daughter is expected to walk the distance, none of her friends live in the area where we r so the only other option I have is to pay for a under 16s ticket monthly which is £45 a month to get her home. I’m lucky she has a lift to school, if it wasn’t for her lift she would be an hour late for school as there’s no bus to town which leaves our area until 8:40 & she starts school at 8:30
Catrin Lloyd was forthright in her condemnation of the county council posting: CCC should be ashamed of themselves. Disgusting. We can blame CCC when pupil attendance levels fall and children’s education is effected.
Melinda Hughes has already made the walk her child is expected to make. Here she sums up the experience:
“I am here at the cycle path. We intended on walking some of the path this morning, but got a small way in where it was pitch dark and walked into a huge impassable body of water! Safe route? I don’t think so. It’s 7.45am now and it takes approx 45 minutes to walk to school from here and it’s actually really dark. Even as a 37 year old woman the thought of walking this route in the dark at this time of the morning was very daunting and intimidating.”
The county council responded previously “Carmarthenshire County Council’s transport department is continuing to lobby the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport to make further allowances within the legislation.”
Cllr Hazel Evans, Executive Board Member for Environment, said: “Any decision to stop providing commercial services is a matter for each individual commercial services operator based on their ability to meet the new legislation. These changes affect all commercially provided school buses throughout the UK, and is not a decision taken by the council or the schools.
“Officers within the transport and education departments have been working with the commercial providers and the schools to plan as much as possible for the legislation.
“A number of services will continue to run on a fare-paying basis as they have the required vehicles, but unfortunately we have been advised that there is a small number of services that will no longer be available from the New Year.
“Parents of those affected have been provided with public transport information.”
Further information about school transport can be found on Carmarthenshire County Council’s website www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales
Public transport services can be checked with Traveline Cymru on 0800 464 0000 (freephone) or online at www.traveline.cymru
The following commercial services are affected by the legislation, and will be withdrawn. Parents will need to make alternative arrangements for their children:
L21 Sandy and Morfa – Coedcae School, Llanelli
107 Drefach – Ysgol Maes Y Gwendraeth
109 Tumble – Ysgol Maes Y Gwendraeth
L26 Dafen – Ysgol y Strade, Llanelli
L35 Pemberton/Llwynhendy/Bryn – Ysgol y Strade, Llanelli
The following commercial services are affected by the legislation, however there are a small number of spare seats:
L20 Llangennech – Bryngwyn School, Llanelli
L28 Maengwynne – Bryngwyn School, Llanelli
L18 Sandy – St John Lloyd School, Llanelli
The council’s website has a facility for applying for spare seats