EMERGENCY cash set aside for more socially distant bus services to help Barnsley children go back to school may not be enough to cover costs - less than two weeks before thousands of kids across the borough are due to return.
South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) announced more bus services will be laid on for the town’s primary and secondary schools from September 1 - when scores of children will return to their classrooms - to adhere to government-set rules.
Councillors in Barnsley revealed the amount of funding is unclear and whether it will even be enough to cater for the demand, which threatens to leave youngsters without a way into school.
Coun Chris Lamb, cabinet spokesperson for environment and transport for Barnsley Council, said: “We welcome the funding and will be liaising with SYPTE to see what this means for Barnsley.
“So far it’s unclear whether the funding will cover the actual costs for SYPTE and the local authority once transport starts again in September.
“During the coronavirus pandemic our home-to-school transport service coped very well and every child that required transport was provided with it.”
Although it is unclear just how many extra services will be put on to cope with demand on usually-busy school buses, parents and carers have been promised updates in the coming days as more news trickles in from the government.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement - which totals £900,000 for South Yorkshire - warned councils’ cash will reflect the number of children and young people in the area and how far they have to travel.
Transport bosses from Sheffield City Region are playing a role in the local rollout of bus services, which the Chronicle can also reveal will involve a move towards encouraging more ‘active travel’ schemes such as walking and cycling.
However, SYPTE leaders have stressed the importance of a second tranche of funding in the coming terms, saying it was ‘vital’ kids in the town are offered readily-available services to ease already-disrupted routines.
SYPTE executive director Stephen Edwards added: “Our priority is ensuring that every child can get to school safely in September.
“That’s why we are actively working with the Department for Transport, transport providers, schools and education authorities in preparation for the new academic year.
“We’re currently analysing data from our school travel survey, to plan where services are needed, and we’ll be communicating journey options - including new dedicated and additional school services - directly to schools, parents and pupils, as soon as possible, in the coming weeks.
“We know significant extra dedicated school bus and coach services, and additional local buses, will be essential to ease pressure on Barnsley’s public transport network.
“The government’s funding package is a welcome support towards providing these services.
“However, it is the tip of the iceberg for this complex and challenging task. To allow us to plan and provide the safe public and school transport network that our city region needs, we will need clarity from government, around specification and social distancing for new school services.
“We want pupils to be confident that they can get to school by bus, coach or public transport safely.”
Barnsley’s congested routes around schools - a long-running topic and cause of frustration for education leaders - have been cited as a concern and it’s hoped parents and carers will ditch cars to avoid a busy rush into school.
“We do not want to see a shift to the car for the school run, and increased congestion and road safety risks as a result,” Mr Edwards added.
“While public transport will continue to be different while social distancing measures remain in place, we can all play our part to travel smart, to keep ourselves and others safe.
“We’re asking parents, pupils and staff members to plan ahead, to think about how they might make their journeys next month, and to check whether it’s possible to walk, scoot or cycle instead.”
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