Solihull school bus service to end in 2020 despite parents’ fears
A school bus service in Solihull will be axed from next autumn, despite claims the change will “pull the rug” from under local families.
The No 197 is set to be combined with the 825 as of September 2020, with a route no longer running from Marston Green.
There are fears this move, which will save the council around £36,000 a year, will cause problems for pupils travelling from the village to Heart of England School in Balsall Common.
The families of around 20 children had objected to the plans and opposition councillors had suggested travelling by train could pose a number of issues.
Although, the council has pointed out that the pupils in question are outside of Heart of England’s catchment area and, in these circumstances, it is not obliged to provide travel assistance.
Cllr Ken Meeson, cabinet member for children, education and skills, said: “It should have stopped in September this year but to give them time to make any other alternative arrangements we agreed to do it for one [more] year.
“This is a decision that’s in line with existing policy … the existing policy is quite clear that parents who decide to send their child to a school other than their catchment school have to make their own transport arrangements.
“It’s just been convenient that the bus we’ve been using [to serve rural areas] actually started from Marston Green, so Marston Green children have been using it.”
Cllr Jean Hamilton (Green, Smith’s Wood) had criticised the council’s handling of the issue and argued it should have given more advance warning, in light of the squeeze on budgets.
“I understand the pressures financially, but what we are doing is we’re putting more cars on the road,” she said.
Lois Brough, the council’s team leader for school admissions and transport, noted there had been “considerable” objections but the train to #Berkswell offered a “creditable” alternative, at the same cost.
While some students already rely on the rail service, opposition members were concerned about a mile-long walk to the school, the chance of cancellations and the timetable in the afternoon.
Cllr Laura McCarthy (Lib Dem, Elmdon) said: “The first train back is at 3.40, the school kicks out at 3.25 – it’s a 20 minute walk to the train station.
“So the first train listed here is going to have left five minutes before they can even get to the train station and that’s even if they leave on time … the next one then is 55 minutes after they’ve left school.”
Cllr Marcus Brain (Lab, Kingshurst & Fordbridge) argued there were “constant delays” on the line and the walk could prove “hazardous”.
Ms Brough maintained there were already many borough children who travelled to schools some distance away, including Birmingham and Stratford.
Concerns about the impact on Marston Green pupils were first raised over the summer, with ward councillor Jim Ryan (Con, Bickenhill) wading into the debate. Back in July the council confirmed the current service would continue for another 12 months.
Speaking this week, Cllr Ryan said: “I think it’s a substantial fear for a parent putting their child on a train that when they get off that train they have to walk quite a distance to the school in all weathers, perhaps sometimes in the dark. Safeguarding should be paramount for the local authority.
“I’m with the parents, I’m with the children, I’m with the safeguarding – 110 per cent.”
At one time school bus services had been provided by the transport authority, then Centro, but Cllr Meeson said the responsibility passed to councils following a “cost-cutting” drive.
Solihull had objected to the change, having argued it would be hit hard because of the number of children living in rural areas. Currently it commissions three primary and eight secondary school buses.
Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/solihull-school-bus-service-end-17126202