Family faced with £3,000 bill for school bus fares

The Archer family

The Archer family - Credit: Archant

Faced with a fare of £1,000 for an 11-year-old to get to school, parents are protesting at school bus fares tripling.

One couple, Beth and Laurie Archer, from Steeple Bumpstead, have three daughters at Joyce Frankland Academy in Newport. They are now looking at an annual bill of nearly £3,000.

Last school year, it cost each of the girls £320 for their annual bus pass. This will more than double to £690 from next month and from September 2017 it will go up to £990 – leaving the family with a bill of £2,970. That’s what it will cost for Alice, 16, Isobel, 14, and Imogen, aged 11, to get to school. The hike follows Essex County Council withdrawing its subsidy to bus company Stephensons for route 118, which has one journey per day in each direction taking pupils to and from Saffron Walden County High School and Joyce Frankland. Children from Steeple Bumpstead who go to school in Newport or Saffron Walden are categorised as having “non entitled” transport because they are not attending their nearest school.

Dad, Laurie Archer said: “We were looking to go away on holiday this year but we will be staying closer to home and just take the children to the seaside. We decided to have a stacation. Two years ago we drove through France and Italy, we were going to do that this year but we’re not, partly because we will need to look after the car. We will be trying to arrange a car share with other parents, which will mean there will be more cars on the road and the bus company is not going to get its money up front.”

The family also have a fourth daughter Lorna aged five.

Mr Archer said: “Normally we would buy the bus passes for the year in September. It seems a shame because the bus company is pricing itself out of the market.”

Another Steeple Bumpstead parent, Sam Gair, said her daughter Millie, 12 chose Joyce Frankland, even though it is not their nearest school because the youngster likes languages and wanted to study Latin.

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Mrs Gair said: “I rang Stephenson’s and the only contingency plan they could offer me was to pay in instalments – but it’s still the same money. The other option is to change schools but there are no places at other schools, this close to the start of term. The letter arrived during the holidays. The point is that the fares have been subsidised but we were not aware of that. We weren’t told and we weren’t told that the subsidy would be suddenly withdrawn. We didn’t expect the fare to go up by 200 per cent.”

Like the Archers, Mrs Gair said Millie would probably get a lift to school with her dad, Simon and they would try to make arrangements for the return journey with another family.

Councillors from the Liberal Democrats and Residents for Uttlesford have joined forces up to condemn the price hike. Elsenham and Henham Councillor Rory Gleeson said: This is an outrageously expensive tax on families by the county council. There is no talk of a discount for families with multiple children, it is an incentive for parents to drive their children to school, increasing the strain on our already crumbling roads.”

Newport Councillor Neil Hargreaves said: “Essex County Council have completely failed to engage with local residents. The consultation in October 2015 was so poorly worded it gave no indication of these large rises, and the letter to parents was slipped out during the holidays. In contrast, neighbouring authorities have continued to help parents.”

Responding to the complaints, Councillor David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: “Currently bus services serving Joyce Frankland Academy in Newport and Saffron Walden High School cost the taxpayer over ?500,000 per year and have become unsustainable.

“We consulted with the public on proposed changes serving these routes and they are now being commercialised as of September this year with bus fares expected to increase following a freeze in fares over the past six years. Pupils entitled to free transport will continue to have this funded by the council.”

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