School trials replacement for axed bus service

A SCHOOL is organising its own bus service for children from the Downend area, after their route was axed by operator Stagecoach.

Olympus Academy Trust, which runs Winterbourne Academy, is using its post-16 bus, which

usually transports sixth form students between secondary school sites during the day, to pick up pupils who used the cancelled 458 service last year.

But parents are reporting “teething problems” with the new service, as well as the remaining ‘stacked’ services where one bus covers two routes in the morning and afternoon.

The Voice reported last month that parents had called for the 458, which ran from Fishponds through Downend to the school, to be reinstated.

An announcement that it was being axed was made during the summer holidays, when both South Gloucestershire Council, which is responsible for school subsidies, and the West of England Combined Authority, which has overall responsibility for transport, said there was no money to fund it.

In a letter to parents at the start of the autumn term, head teacher Jenny Cartwright said the school had worked over the summer to find a possible solution.

She said that, while it had no funding and was not officially responsible for transporting pupils to school, the trust had worked out a way to use its post-16 bus to cover the 458 and another axed route, the 963 from Patchway, “at considerable cost”.

Mrs Cartwright said: “In order for these buses to remain viable, sufficient numbers of parents will need to commit to students using the bus, so we are trialling the service initially until Christmas.”

The Voice understands parents are being asked to pay £300 a term, which the school says will not cover the total cost.

Mrs Cartwright said: “This has been a distressing situation for parents and we have been very concerned about the impact on families and young people from the withdrawal of the 963 and 458 services.

“We have been raising our concerns with WECA and with South Gloucestershire Council and will continue to do so.

“Finding any financially viable resolution to this issue has been very challenging.”

“However, I am very happy that we have been able to find a solution that will provide a safe travel option for most students whilst recognising that this will not suit all, and has limitations compared to the previously subsided WECA and local authority offer.

“Providing this service will place an additional administrative and financial burden on the school at a time when the budgets in education are extremely stretched, but we felt it was important to do what was within our power to help our school community and are pleased with the take-up so far from parents.”

Parent Jenny Rawling, from Downend, said the new service was more than 30 minutes late on the first day her son tried to use it, and he ended up cycling in.

She said: “Many parents don’t want to or can’t find £300 for a service they may not use every day, so are walking to get the 459 from Emersons and Lyde Green, which has therefore been dangerously overcrowded.” 

Jenny said delays to the ‘stacked’ 459, 460 and 427 services, which also serve Coalpit Heath and Frenchay, had made children late getting to and from school.

She said: “I hope this is just teething problems and we appreciate school are doing their best in an impossible situation – WECA needs to sort this out, and each bus load of students needs a bus.”