SCORES of Barnsley children who rely on school buses face being left without a service - unless local leaders find a way to solve the ‘immediate threat’ posed by operators due to a widespread cull of routes.
Barnsley is facing the loss of a third of its entire bus network, after government funding to help operators get through the pandemic comes to an end in October.
Commercially-operated school bus routes are among those at risk and South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard will meet with council bosses on Monday to discuss a way forward.
The Chronicle understands one of the solutions put forward is to free up £5m in the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority’s budget, which will protect school services for the next two years.
Mr Coppard said: “We are facing the immediate threat of the biggest and most damaging cuts for a generation and sadly school buses are among those at risk of being pulled.
“Local roads are already among the most dangerous in the UK for children so unless we want even more cars on the school run - not only increasing traffic and making our air more toxic, but also potentially making it harder for many parents and carers to get to work - a reliable school bus service is vital.
“While we wait for the money and the powers to fix our broken bus system, I’ve promised to do everything I can to keep our service going.
“I’m recommending that local leaders approve our plan of using part of our budget reserve to keep these buses going in the face of brutal cuts.”
School buses which carry children who get a zero fare bus pass from Barnsley Council are not affected by the cuts, as these routes are already funded by the SYMCA.
The routes under threat to kids are the ones which also carry children paying 80p fares.
Most buses are run by private companies and under the current system, operators are free to decide where and when they will run services.
When bus companies withdraw services - as they are expected to do in October when government funding stops - SYMCA can pay other companies to run the route.
However, in the most recent tender process, a number of routes received no bids from operators.
The government has also halved the £3bn funding available to its flagship Bus Back Better policy, a plan to level up bus services outside of London.
“The government said they want to see a ‘London-style transport network’ here by 2030 but right now we’re a million miles away from that goal and the clock is ticking.
“Without investment from government things are going to get worse, not better.”