CHILDREN from Emersons Green and Lyde Green who catch a bus to their secondary school will have to be at their stop as early as 6.50am every day from the start of this month.
The 459 service, which takes children to Winterbourne Academy, is leaving 40 minutes earlier than last year – and will drop pupils off at 7.35am, almost an hour before the school day starts.
Parents also fear overcrowding on the bus, because another service – the 458 from Fishponds and Downend – is being axed, and families who used it are being advised to take the 459 instead.
The new 459 timetable will see the bus leave Emersons Green Science Park at 6.50am, Sainsbury’s at 6.59am and the stop on Emerson Way, near Meadgate, at 7.05am before it heads to Blackhorse, Westbourne Road in Downend, Bromley Heath and Hambrook.
The change in the timetable is because the bus taking Emersons Green children to school will have to turn around and pick up pupils on another route, before the start of lessons.
Known as ‘stacking’, it is part of the arrangements to keep the remaining routes running with a council subsidy.
Parents were first told in June that five services, including the 459, faced an uncertain future.
In July South Gloucestershire Council said it had saved the 459 and two other services, the 460 from Coalpit Heath and 427 from Frenchay, using money paid by developers as part of planning deals. But on the last day of the summer term, parents were told the 458 and another service from Patchway were being axed, and the remaining services were being ‘stacked’.
Many of the children from Emersons Green, Lyde Green and Downend who use the buses attend Winterbourne Academy because they were unable to get places at Downend School.
The academy has recently increased its admission numbers to accommodate extra pupils because of continued delays in building Lyde Green Secondary School.
Parents in Emersons Green and Lyde Green described the new bus timetables as “crazy”, “totally ridiculous” and “absolutely shocking”.
A petition calling for the reinstatement of the axed services has been signed by more than 690 people. Parents are calling on operator Stagecoach, the council and Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who has overall responsibility for transport, to take “immediate action”.
Claire Virtue, who started the petition, said: “This decision not only jeopardises the safety of our children but also poses a significant threat to our environment due to increased traffic congestion. Without access to reliable public transportation, many students are now forced to walk long distances, along unsafe roads or rely on private vehicles for their daily commute.”
A council spokesperson said: “The stacked solution was developed in partnership with the school as a way of maximising the impact of available funding to retain as many of these services as possible.
“The school is making arrangements to supervise the children who arrive early, and this was the only way to continue to provide a bus via Emersons Green and serve the northern part of Downend.”
The council also advised Downend parents that they could use the 459.
The spokesperson said: “We are delighted that from September 3 the 459 will continue to serve Downend to help mitigate the loss of the 458 and children in the area can use it to travel to school at Winterbourne Academy.”
However another parent, Jenny Rawling, told the Voice the 459 route was almost half an hour’s walk from many homes in Downend, which would mean children having to leave home well before 7am to reach it.
She said: “And the fact remains you can’t fit two bus loads of children onto one bus – the 458 was pretty much full by the time it reached the Horseshoe (in Downend’s high street).”
A council spokesperson said that WECA, as the local transport authority, “is responsible for bus services in the region” and the council did not have “unlimited resources to fund all the services at risk”.
However a spokesperson for Metro Mayor Dan Norris said was the council’s responsibility to provide free transport “if the school attended is the nearest appropriate one” and three miles or more away.
Parent Simon Turner, from Frenchay, called on the council and Metro Mayor to stop blaming each other and “sit down like grown-ups” to find a solution.
The petition can be found on the change.org website, at tinyurl.com/mvjn9yaf.