School bus future in doubt again

FAMILIES in Downend whose children attend Winterbourne Academy are again facing uncertainty over the future of their school bus service.

Last year operator Stagecoach axed its 458 service, which served Fishponds and Downend.

The school stepped in to run it, using its post-16 students’ bus to cover the route.

However parents have now been told that the bus has cost the school more than £30,000 this year, and it cannot afford to run it again after the summer holidays.

In a letter to parents, head teacher Jenny Cartwright said the service was used by 23 students, five of them in one direction only, which was not enough to cover the cost.

She said: “It is difficult to continue to justify spending the school funds on transport in this way, particularly as it is not part of our statutory duty for which funding is provided.”

Dave Baker, the chief executive of Olympus Trust, which runs the school, said expecting parents to pay the whole cost was not viable, as it would be around £7.50 each way.

Many families who rely on buses to Winterbourne Academy missed out on places at Downend School, which is oversubscribed.

A group of 25 parents met at Christ Church Hall in Downend in June to discuss ways to save the service.

They are calling on the school, South Gloucestershire Council, which subsidises some other school bus routes, and the West of England Combined Authority, which is responsible for transport planning, to work with them to find a solution.

Libby Rogers, who has children in Year 7 and Year 9 at Winterbourne, said: “The 458 was well used before it was scrapped last summer and the school stepped in.

“This bus leaves at 7am, the kids are in school an hour early, you have to pay £100 upfront per month and there is no flexibility to use and pay for just some journeys, so many children are already being driven to school or finding alternative ways.”

Libby said the 459, which stops in Bromley Heath on its way from Lyde Green to Winterbourne, is often overcrowded and sometimes has to leave children behind at the school.

Operators for both the 459 and the 427, from Frenchay, are currently being sought by South Gloucestershire Council on a subsidised basis, after Stagecoach said it would no longer operate them commercially after the summer.

A council spokesperson said: “The 458 was a private arrangement, funded by Winterbourne Academy following the withdrawal of the commercial route previously operated by Stagecoach. “No solutions for the continuation of the 458 have been identified at this time.”