Thousands of Birmingham schoolchildren and their parents face a second battle to keep their free bus passes under revised plans to halve the city’s £12 million home-to-school transport budget.
Plans to cut back on taxis and assistance for disabled and special needs pupils and reduce free travel for those who live far from their school in a bid to save £6 million were thrown out earlier this year following fears of an outcry from parents and disabled groups.
But now the council is set to launch a three-month consultation with the families of the 2,600 pupils with bus passes and 3,700 with supported transport.
Areas being looked at include raising the qualifying distance from school before free bus passes are supplied to two miles for under-eights and three miles for older children.
At present children aged seven and under need to be more than a mile from the school gates and those up to 11-years-old need only be a mile-and-a-half away. Council bosses are also looking at cuts in transport to faith schools.
Special needs pupils could be reassessed to “maximise the independence of pupils”, and cheaper forms of travel can be considered such as sharing cabs. Free travel where parents indicate a preference for a school further afield could also be looked at, according to a report to the council’s Cabinet.
There are fears Birmingham’s growing birth rate will see the service under further stress.
A council spokesman said that the consultation is open ended and will consider all reasonable suggestions.
He said: “We are aware of the need to review a policy that has been in place since 1989.
“However we are also mindful of the impact on families of any change to the service – so we have purposely not limited the scope of the consultation.
“We will outline the issues and challenges and want young people and parents to help in finding the solutions. We know of examples in other local authorities where parents have extended the range of service options to include options that reflect their family life. These are local solutions that the council alone cannot explore.
“The review will need to address the issues and stick to the timetable – but not at the expense of gathering and utilising the good ideas of young people, parents and staff.”
Plans to introduce changes in April this year were scrapped because the plans, at short notice, would have been devastating to families affected and be open to challenge under the Disability Discrimination Act.
The consultation results are expected in January, with a report to go to Cabinet in February for implementation in the 2012-3 budget, around the time political control of the council switches from the Tory-Lib Dem coalition to Labour.