A CONSULTATION will be held on plans to change the distances eligible for free school transport in Rhondda Cynon Taf in a move that could see around 2,700 pupils no longer having access to this service.
The main changes relate to the distances which are eligible for free transport for mainstream primary, secondary and college pupils which would bring them in line with the statutory distance requirements, the council said.
Under the proposals, primary pupils who live two miles or further from their nearest suitable school would continue to receive free transport, with the current distance being 1.5 miles.
Mainstream secondary and college pupils who live three miles or further from their nearest suitable school would continue to receive free transport, with the current distance being two miles.
Under the proposal, allowing a pupil to select their nearest suitable school in accordance with choice of English or Welsh-medium language or preferred religious denomination would continue, as would providing pre-compulsory school age transport and post-16 transport.
The discretionary elements of Additional Learning Needs (ALN) transport would not change, the council said.
The changes which cabinet agreed to consult on at a meeting on Monday, November 20, would bring the provision for mainstream primary, secondary and college pupils in line with the statutory distance requirements, the council said.
The council said it delivers the largest operation of its kind in Wales in a “generous provision” where 9,000 pupils receive free transport on a discretionary basis – beyond the statutory level set out in the Welsh Government’s learner travel measure.
The council added that over the last eight years the council’s home to school transport costs have increased from £8m in 2015 to more than £15m for the 2023/24 financial year.
Paul Mee, the council’s chief executive, said: “Home to school transport costs have almost doubled since 2015, with many councils having already altered their eligibility criteria.
“Welsh Government’s current guidance has been in place since 2014, and for almost 10 years we’ve provided free transport to around 9,000 pupils.
“The preferred option would align our policy with the learner travel measure for mainstream primary and secondary pupils – while this revised policy would also apply to Welsh, special and faith school pupils, as well as post-16 learners, where there is no statutory duty requiring us to provide transport.
“As a council we would continue to provide a significant level of home to school transport provision beyond what we are legally required to do.”
The council is currently facing a budget gap of £35m next year and £85m over the next three years and this proposal would result in savings of £2.5m per year from 2026/27 financial year with the part-year savings for 2025/26 being £1.4m.
Stephen Williams, the council’s director of transport services, said the option would deliver a financial saving while maintaining all other elements of the generous discretionary provisions and it will address increasing concerns about market stability and volatility and encourage more pupils on to public transport.
He said approximately 2,700 pupils would no longer receiving access to the current discretionary service but the council will continue to meet the requirements of the learner travel measure.
Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of the council, said 18 other councils already use this distance and even if it is agreed they’d still be providing discretionary transport for thousands of learners every day over and above what the council has to.
He said taking away all discretionary travel would generate £6.5m in savings but this is looking at a £2.5m saving per year.
He later added that it is something they’d rather not have to do but said that if costs continue to escalate as they have then the £2.5m will multiply.
He said they do make sure that safe walking routes are taken into account and assessed.
Councillor Karen Morgan, leader of the Plaid Cymru group, said if the proposal goes ahead it is going to cause “significant levels of stress” to pupils and families.
She said the families of around 2,750 pupils will need to find the money for public transport if it is available and goes anywhere near a school or to drive to school, adding to the congestion on roads and RCT’s carbon footprint.
She mentioned the drop off in attendance at Welsh schools and said sadly she could see an increase in the number of parents facing court action and a massive impact on education and attainment.
She urged council to consider the impact on child poverty, the Welsh language and safe routes to school.
Councillor Karl Johnson, Conservative, said he doesn’t believe the proposals are the correct ones and that one model doesn’t fit all communities.
He said in his area of Llantwit Fardre the bus is the only form of public transport available so more cars will come on to the road leading to more pollution.
Cllr Johnson said the report does not outline the potential efficiency savings of combining school bus routes and he raised concern about the potential for children to have to walk long distances.
He also raised concern over the potential impact on pupils’ attendance and engagement with education.
A six-week consultation will run from November 27 to January 8.