Chichester parents call on council for safer bus service

Parents of pupils at a Chichester school concerned about their children’s journeys are calling on the county council to help them get to school safely.

Families living in the Witterings want the local authority to help arrange a safer bus service for students heading to Bishop Luffa CE after funding for the direct school service was removed in July.

“It is essential that a public bus service is provided that offers a safe and easy route for the children to get to and from school, not least because the council-provided bus will cease for all pupils from next school year,” said Elizabeth Williams, of West Bracklesham Drive.

The worried mum, who has two children at the school, hopes an arrangement can be made for students from the area to be taken directly to Bishop Luffa.

“This would ensure that young people – some as young as 11 who are travelling to school alone for the first time – will not have to make their own way through a busy town centre, navigating roads to and from school,” she said.

Parents wanting their children to take the direct bus service to the school, which will run until July 2012, have to pay full price after the subsidy was withdrawn. Mrs Williams said this decision has left her and others out of pocket, leaving them with no choice but to use the public buses.

A group of parents from the school have written to Bill Leath, group manager for transport co-ordination, calling for action, and they also hope to enlist the help of MP Andrew Tyer.

“The council’s decision to cease the direct bus service next year and remove all subsidy for this school year has placed additional financial strain on many parents at very short notice,” added Mrs Williams.

“Researching the cost of the public bus service has proved a difficult task and the currently available options appear unsuitable.

“There appears to have been no action by the county council to work with Stagecoach buses to reflect the changed requirements on the public bus service for Bishop Luffa pupils.”

Another mother from the Witterings area, Angela Arnell-Smith of Cakeham Road, has also joined the battle on behalf of Bishop Luffa pupils.

“Many of us are still paying £30 per week for two children to get to school and back, on buses which are overcrowded, therefore unsafe and unreliable,” she said. “This situation has to be resolved urgently.”

Nick Taunt, headteacher at Bishop Luffa, argued earlier this year the changes to the bus services would badly affect low-income families.

“It is wrong that those seeking a Christian education living at a distance from the school will not be able to afford to send their children to Bishop Luffa,” he said in April.

“The cost of transporting 1,400 pupils on denominational grounds is £535,000 a year, and cutting it will save just four per cent of the total expenditure on school transport.

“The small saving appears to be out of proportion with the significant impact the cuts would have on many families.”

A spokesman for West Sussex County Council said the authority was prepare to look at ways to tackle the problem. He said: “We have agreed to facilitate a meeting with Stagecoach, parents, the school and ourselves to discuss and seek to find ways to resolve the parents’ concerns.”

Andrew Dyer, managing director for Stagecoach South, confirmed the company hoped to arrange a meeting with the county council and the school to work on a solution.

“We are very keen to form a closer working relationship with the school so that we can jointly provide a bus route network that satisfies the needs of the pupils,” he said. “It has to be financially viable, but we are very keen to explore opportunities.”