Children Must Have Free School Transport if Walking Route is Dangerous
News: Pembrokeshire County Council to pay for transport if walking to school is unsafe
Children faced with unsafe walks to and from school should be offered free transport, even if they do not normally qualify on grounds of long distance, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet decided on Monday March 9th.
There is no budget for this, so the annual cost of around £121,000 would have to come from the contingency fund.
Children aged 5 to 7 qualify for free transport if they live more than two miles from their nearest school, as do children from 8 to 16 who live further than three miles away.
The county council has relied on commercial bus services to carry school pupils who live nearer than the qualifying distances for free transport. The Cabinet’s hand was to some extent forced by a proposed charge of £1 each way from September 2020 for pupils travelling on the 302 bus service from Johnston to the senior school in Milford Haven. The charge would amount to £10 a week per child. The current concessionary arrangements end in September, and parents, Johnston Community Council and local county councillors raised the issue of the proposed cost, which would hit the budgets of many families.
Johnston is a long village, mostly between three and four miles from Milford Haven, and so in the free transport zone. But the part of Johnston nearest to Milford is just under three miles distant along the busy A4076 main road.
An unsafe route along a main road is one without a continuous pavement or a verge as a ‘step aside’ from traffic, and even if there is a ‘step aside’, if the road must be crossed, and it is too busy to cross without danger, it is unsafe .
The Welsh Government ’s ‘Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance’,* dated 2014, makes clear that the walking route to the nearest school must be ‘safe’. There is a guide to determining the safety of a walking route in ‘Assessment of Walked Routes to School’ by Road Safety GB and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published in 2012 and updated 2016.
If a route is unsafe to walk, the presence of a commercial bus service is immaterial.
Cars and lorries are dangerous companions for children walking to school, and arguably a factor which should be taken more into account when an education authority decides to close a school, or indeed to open a new one.
The fact that the costs of providing transport are often excluded from education budgets, but fall into another department like transport or highways, means that transport may not be given sufficient importance when education decisions are made.
*See especially sections 1.62 and 1.63.