Future of spare seats scheme to be reconsidered


Children not eligible for free home-to-school transport have been able to pay to use spare seats

by Noor Qurashi, Local Democracy Reporter

The axing of places on school buses for children will be reconsidered following a backlash from parents.

Oxfordshire County Council planned on withdrawing its Spare Seats scheme for pupils travelling from Middle Barton and The Bartons villages to Chipping Norton School.

It follows a furore last year when the council scrapped the scheme on nine routes, affecting more than 200 children including at Wheatley Park School, The Warriner in Bloxham and Wood Green in Witney.

The council says the scheme, which allows parents with children not eligible for free home-to-school transport to pay to use spare seats on school buses, is no longer cost neutral.

Leader of the Conservatives on the county council, Eddie Reeves, submitted a motion that was discussed at Tuesday’s (June 9) full council meeting requesting the leader and relevant cabinet member(s) bring a report to cabinet to “address how existing numbers of school bus places can be maintained and, where possible, increased”.

Speaking out at the meeting, Mr Reeves said: “Either we think this council is in the business of making life easier for residents or it is in the business of making life more difficult.

“The reality is this is going to hammer certain families in this county.

“Parents themselves were only given two weeks notice of this sweeping change.”

One parent at the meeting, Stuart Bartlett, said: “The loss of the Spare Seats bus scheme will have such a negative impact on our family.

“The prospect of having this route removed and leaving us with only a few weeks to find alternatives feels deeply, deeply unfair.”

Councillor John Howson, cabinet member for Children, Education and Young People’s Services said: “Oxfordshire County Council has a statutory duty to provide free school transport for a young person attending their nearest school.

“Following a public consultation exercise in 2014, the council changed its policy so as to provide free transport from Oxfordshire homes to the nearest available school.

“Previously where there have been buses with ‘spare’ seats (i.e. the number of eligible young people was lower than the capacity of the bus), such spare seats were offered to non-eligible young people.

“However, it is not cost effective to maintain a high level of spare or empty seats for young people who do not qualify for free transport.

“Across the county, the number of eligible young people has reduced meaning the number of spare seats are no longer available.”

Conservative councillor Nigel Simpson thanked officers for trying to find a solution to the problem but also said “removing the buses will force more children into cars”.

Mr Reeves added: “I’m reliably informed that ZEZ fines between April 2022 and last month are now in excess of a million pounds.

“There is money surely to tackle this problem.

“It will take creativity and it will take resolve on the cabinet’s part and I urge them so to do.”

The motion was passed by councillors unanimously.

Published: by Banbury FM Newsteam

Reader's opinions
  1. Fran Hughes   On   11/07/2024 at 11:02 am

    What an absolute mess OCC. One minute they are trying to reduce emissions by getting people to use their cars less, the next they reduce provision of public transport. Common sense should prevail, to remove the ‘spare seat’ rule is not cost effective.OCC jus need to charge a nominal fee for those seats. For goodness sake the bus is going on the said routes half empty. It beggars belief why a board of County Councillors would spend so much time on the matter in hand wasting tax papers money on such petty rules.

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