Posted: 09.06.21 at 10:44 by The Editor
A council education leader said the UK Government ministers “really need to pull their finger out” to solve a problem costing councils thousands of pounds to transport post-16 learners.
Cllr Julie Fallon, Conwy County Council’s cabinet member for education, made the charge during the authority’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The council has been forced to scrap transport charges for post-16 learners for a second year because progress on finding a workaround to new UK Government transport regulations stalled in the pandemic.
The idea to bill post-16 learners £80 per term for school transport had to be scrubbed last year after the Government finally introduced the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR), 2000.
The law puts a duty on companies with coaches and buses designed to carry more than 22 passengers to make them accessible to disabled passengers.
A court case challenging the rules established this applied to any journeys where payment was taken.
In detail it means school buses across North Wales could only be used for free travel or charge fewer than 20% of those using a particular bus service to comply with the regulations.
Any buses wishing to charge 20% of passengers or more under the rules would still need to conform to stringent new disability access standards.
Even second-hand PSVAR-compliant vehicles can cost upwards of £40,000, meaning operators are faced with massive bills for replacing buses and coaches – and having to raise costs.
This could leave cash-strapped councils facing bigger transport bills or having to pass on extra charges to students and their families.
No headway has been made with Government on finding a solution, so Cllr Fallon said they had to defer charges for yet another year.
She said: “We want to highlight the lack of progress with the Government.
“They really need to pull their finger out and deal with this. Obviously it’s incredibly costly for bus companies to make these changes.
“If the charges are being forced through by Government, they need to see how they can help implement it.”