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Have they already decided to end free travel on school buses?

Pupils get on the school bus at St Ninians School

Pupils get on the school bus at St Ninians School

A plan to scrap free bus travel for school pupils was supposed to be just that – a proposal.

The idea of reintroducing charges on school buses is one of a number of options currently the subject of a public consultation by the Department of Infrastructure, which is looking to make cost savings of £5 million in this financial year.

But regulations being brought to next week’s Tynwald sitting suggest that government has already made up its mind.

The regulations, to come in to operation on August 1, will give the Road Transport Licensing Committee powers to fix the maximum fares which may be charged for a journey by a school child on an eligible school bus service during the autumn, spring or summer term.

New Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK insisted no decisions have been made.

He told the Manx Independent said: ‘The regulations give us powers to do things currently we don’t have powers to do.

‘People can be cynical if they choose – I probably would be if I was in their position!’

Mr Gawne said a range of options were being considered and the department would not necessarily go ahead with charging on school buses if there were sizable objections to the plan. If it did go ahead, however, it was sensible to have the legislation in place first.

He added: ‘We always used to charge for children on school buses. Since it was removed we have a situation where we have seen a growing problem of obesity. Schoolchildren used to walk to school. I’m not saying that’s the main cause but it may be something we need to consider.’

There are currently 32 school service bus routes operating in the morning and afternoon during term time at a cost of about £1.25m a year.

Free bus transport for children to and from school was introduced in 2000.

The year before that each child using a school service bus paid 15p for each journey to or from school or they could buy 10 journeys for £1.50.

Transport chief are considering charging 50p per journey.

Alternatively, they are looking at increasing fares could in line with the distance the school pupil travels on a bus.

This could see the maximum school bus transport fares per journey from rural areas and villages which do not have a secondary school within their area being £1.05 for two zone travel, 55p for one zone travel and 25p for three stops.

Children entitled to free school meals or in receipt of Family Income Supplement would not be charged for school bus transport if they live more than one mile from their primary school or two miles from their secondary school.

The DoI has no legal obligation to provide school buses and is also looking at the option of pulling out of operating them altogether - and contracting them out to the private sector.

It is also consulting on restricting concessionary bus fares for the over 60s.

 

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