TravelWatch backs plan to charge schoolchildren 50p a journey

Bus times are changing in Doncaster

Bus times are changing in Doncaster

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Passenger watchdog TravelWatch says that introducing a flat rate 50p fare on school buses could raise between £325,000 and £350,000 a year.

The group made the suggestion in its submission to the public consultation on public transport and planning.

Reintroducing charges on school buses is one of a number of options currently being considered by the Department of Infrastructure, which is looking to make cost savings of £5 million in this financial year.

Tynwald last month approved regulations giving the Road Transport Licensing Committee powers to fix the maximum fares which may be charged on a school bus.

In its submission, TravelWatch welcomed the consultation, recognising that the island’s public finances were such that difficult decisions must be taken.

But it said it is disappointed that more financial information about the revenue that might be generated by the options set out in the paper has not been provided.

‘Our enquiries suggest that a 50p fixed school fare would yield £325,000 to £350,000 a year,’ said the group’s spokesman Dick Clague.

There are currently 32 school service bus routes operating 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.

Transport chief are considering charging 50p per journey. Alternatively, they are looking at increasing fares in line with the distance travelled.

TravelWatch say other scenarios should have then been considered and costed – for instance, flat rate concessionary fares or an annual concessionary travel card.

It points out free school bus transport is a relatively recent innovation and suggests some changes are needed to encourage walking short distances to school and to make a reasonable charge for providing the services.

But it says a balance needs to be struck to avoid unintended consequences such as more traffic congestion outside schools.

TravelWatch says the proposal to link entitlement to free bus travel with the state pension age is logical and it supports the continuation of concessionary fares for those with a significant disability.

But it says all concessionary fares need to monitored to prevent abuse of the system.

The Department of Infrastructure is consulting on a number of proposals designed to raise money to make ends meet.

Among them is a plan to charging Tynwald members and government employees for parking spaces.

It is also considering charging residents for on-street parking permits and is looking at charging for parking in central Douglas.

TravelWatch says it does not generally deal with parking issues.

But in the interest of ‘joined up’ travel, it argues that in making any changes to parking arrangements and charges, special care should be taken about facilities at the port and airport so that those travelling off island are not faced with excessive charges and that short-stay drop-off and pick-up facilities are maintained.

It points out the consideration must be given of the ability and capacity of the public transport system to handle more passengers should commuters be deprived of free parking facilities.

Proposals to make government workers pay for parking include charges for teachers, firefighters, hospital staff and police who park miles away from congested Douglas town centre.

Karl Flint of the National Union of Teachers said any move to make teachers pay to park outside their schools would come in ‘over my dead body’.

And Andrew Shipley of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it was totally unacceptable’ and was most likely to put the union in dispute with government.

Fire brigade union regional secretary Les Scarratts said his members were concerned about the proposals and pointed out staff also spent long periods at the fire station preparing equipment and training. He said: ‘Are they seriously suggesting we might have to spend time looking for somewhere to park? It’s just a nonsense.’

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