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Llanelli parents form action group in bid to find alternative bus service 

Finley Galloway, 11, one of many pupils in Llanelli whose school bus service is ending (Pic: Rachel Galloway)

ANXIOUS parents of pupils whose school bus service is ending are battling to find alternative provision and have formed an action group to highlight their situation.

Their children do not qualify for free home-to-school transport because they live within three miles of their respective comprehensive school in Llanelli but a commercially-operated service has been taking them for years.

The L23, L24 and L27 fare-paying service to Ysgol Y Strade, Bryngwyn, and St John Lloyd schools is ending on Friday March 22 because operator DR Taxis Llanelli Ltd is discontinuing all its larger vehicles for financial reasons.

Zoe Rees, of Heol Goffa, and Rachel Galloway, of Cae Glas, said their children will have to walk just under two miles to get to Ysgol Y Strade, and they are worried for their safety. They are now part of an action group, Bring Back School Buses For All, which is up and running following a meeting at Felinfoel rugby club.

Miss Rees and Mrs Galloway said parents did not not expect a free service and would contribute to a replacement service – the cost is currently £1 per child per single trip – and they hope Carmarthenshire Council can intervene.

Miss Rees said: “We are ringing different bus companies but they are saying ‘no’. I’m a single parent, and I don’t drive.”

She said her 14-year-old daughter, Keira, was worried about walking to school, as was she. Miss Rees said she had genuine safety concerns because of what she alleged were instances of pupils being approached by adults and gangs looking for younger people to courier drugs.

“We’ve got parents walking different routes and we’re seeing how many street lights there are, if there is CCTV or camera door bells,” she said. “Years ago we all used to cycle or walk to school, but it’s different now. It’s not as safe as it was. You don’t hear about it until your child is in comprehensive.”

Miss Rees said she would want to accompany Keira if she walked to school, but that would mean her nine-year-old daughter also joining them. She estimated that it would cost around £10 by taxi and said this wouldn’t be affordable for parents.

Keira Rees, 14, one of many pupils in Llanelli whose school bus service is ending (Pic: Zoe Rees)

The action group wants a review of the three-mile school transport rule in Wales, but councils say that expanding free school bus provision would be hugely expensive.

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Mrs Galloway said it would take her 11-year-old son, Finley, 45 minutes or more to walk to Ysgol Y Strade. She said he was an “outdoors” boy, but that safety was uppermost in her thoughts as well as concerns about poor air quality on Sandy Park Road, which leads to the school. She added that children sometimes had to take PE kit or musical instruments with them.

“I have told him not to worry about it,” said Mrs Galloway, who along with her husband works full-time.”I said I will do my best for him. I run a business and I can normally find a solution. But with this one I just can’t do anything. I’ve tried ringing other bus companies.”

She said she had also tried to buy a surplus place on a school bus which took pupils from outside the three-mile limit to Ysgol Y Stradey but without success.

Mrs Galloway said she had the option of driving Finley to school, unlike some parents, but that she had a three-year-old and eight-year-old to juggle as well.

Asked if she really felt that children were less safe than they used to be, she replied: “It’s a changed society. My mother would be happy for me to walk to school (years ago) but she would not be happy for her grandson to walk to school.”

Dafen and Felinfoel councillors Rob Evans and Nysia Evans said they have been supporting parents. Cllr Rob Evans helped organise the meeting at Felinfoel rugby club and said the current bus services were crucial.

“They make sure the pupils arrive safe, dry, warm and mentally prepared for the day ahead,” he said. “Pupils will soon be sitting exams and to expect them to have to walk up to three miles is unacceptable.”

Fellow Labour ward member Cllr Nysia Evans said she had been inundated with calls from worried parents. “Many are now having to consider putting their child into Bryngwyn School and forfeiting their child’s Welsh language education at Ysgol Y Strade, which is a sad state of affairs,” she said. Llanelli town councillor Shaun Greaney, also Labour, urged the county council to step in, while Llanelli MP Nia Griffith said she shared parents’ concerns and was keen to offer support.

Carmarthenshire’s cabinet member for transport, Cllr Edward Thomas, said the county council couldn’t intervene but that it sympathised with affected pupils and parents.

He said the council organised free transport for around 6,500 pupils up to the age of 16 who qualified because they lived more than three miles from their designated secondary school or more than two miles from their primary school.

“It is a parental responsibility to arrange travel for learners who are not entitled for free transport, either due to residing within statutory distance or not attending their catchment or nearest school, and this applies to over 20,000 learners,” he said.

Cllr Thomas said the Plaid-Independent-run authority had made made every effort to encourage other commercial operators to fill the imminent void in Llanelli but without success. “Unfortunately, this is currently the commercial reality of a bus industry which has borne the pressures of driver shortages, increased fuel, parts and vehicle costs, and a shortage of mechanics,” he said.

DR Taxis Llanelli said its decision was based purely on financial reasons, that it wasn’t taken lightly, and that it apologised to parents and pupils. Owner Nicola Rees-Jones said the number of pupils taking the bus to the three schools varied considerably from week to week, which meant revenue was unpredictable. She added that the company was looking to acquire more smaller vehicles. She said she understood parents’ concerns. “My children use one of the routes,” she said.

The Welsh Government is planning to overhaul bus services in Wales, enabling councils and ministers to agree a local bus network.

Llanelli MS Lee Waters, the outgoing Deputy Minister for Transport, said the plan was for school transport to be rolled into the scheduled bus service, but that this would take time.