Bus pass price increase adds to pollution fears outside schools

The travel card, supplied by Kent County Council [KCC] is due to increase from £290 to £350 per school year following plans approved by the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee last week.

The pass provides 11-to-16-year-olds with unlimited travel on Kent buses between 6am and 7pm, Monday to Friday.

As reported last month, KCC has been forced to cut the subsidy of the bus pass by £800,000 as the county council, like many local authorities, is under pressure to reduce costs.

The cabinet member for transport, Cllr Mike Whiting, said the council does not have the cash to fund free transport for all children.

He said: “This is almost unique this scheme. If you lived in Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, you simply don’t get any help getting your children to school.

“We have maintained something that other councils simply don’t provide but to do that we’ve had to reduce the subsidy that we are able to offer.

“We still spend £8.1 million on this scheme but we had to reduce the subsidy to make it affordable for the council to do it.”

He added that the council is offering parents a chance to pay by instalments for the first time, although there will be a £10 administration fee.

Lib Dem Councillor, Antony Hook, voted against the plans and said it was a ‘kick in the teeth to families’.

He argued: “Society in 2019 is vastly richer than it was in 1991 so just looking at the big picture, I don’t understand why we were able to provide all our schoolchildren with free transport in 1991 but we have to charge them in 2019.”

It is not the first time the price of the travel pass has risen, but it is a six-fold increase to the £10 the pass went up last year.

The price rise comes just as teachers have declared they want cars barred from the school run to save children from inhaling dangerous levels of air pollution.

A Sustrans study has found 63 per cent of teachers would back a ban and nearly half were concerned about car engines idling outside school gates.

And Medical Director at Public Health England, Paul Cosford, said between 28,000 and 36,000 deaths a year could be attributed to air pollution, and he called for cars to be banned from outside school gates.

Yet local parents have argued that the cost of the bus pass has now reached a ‘tipping point’, and if you have more than one child it is now cheaper to drive them to school.

Richard Taylor who lives in Tonbridge, has a 12-year-old daughter at Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells, eight miles away, who currently gets the bus to school.

But he says when his other daughter, who is not yet four, reaches school age, it will be cheaper to put the pair of them in the car to drive to school.

“I’ve worked it out. I will be £100 a year better off if I drive them. It has reached the tipping point now. Other parents I’ve spoken to have said the same thing too.”

Mr Taylor, a businessman who runs Anglefix in Tonbridge, added that for parents short of money, the price hike is bound to lead to them taking their children to school by car.

“For me, it would be an hour round trip, especially when you take traffic into consideration, but if you are a parent that is short of money, that is the option you will take.”

Others agree that this latest travel card price hike by KCC is going to lead to more cars on the road doing the school run.

John Hurst from the Tunbridge Wells Green Party told the Times: “We have a climate change emergency and air quality issues; making school bus passes free – as they are in London for under 16’s – would address both problems”.

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