Transport crisis sees pupils struggling to get to school on time

Parents have abandoned plans to hire alternative transport to take their children to the Wellsway and IKB campus in Keynsham following the axing of their school bus.

Plenty of users were lined up for a private hire service to replace Stagecoach’s 432 bus, which carried pupils from the Longwell Green, North Common, Oldland Common, Willsbridge and Bitton area, but some parents couldn’t pay the whole term upfront so dropped out. This pushed the price beyond reach for everyone else.

Parents say they have written to Stagecoach, local MPs, Wellsway’s headteacher and First Bus to see if anything can be done, but to no avail. With pupils now returning to school, many parents have resorted to driving them.

They say the alternative is for pupils to catch other local bus services and be late for school.

As we reported in Issue 638 in July, the 432 was taken off by Stagecoach who said that since that since taking on the service in 2018, it had been running it on a fully commercial basis but numbers and revenue had declined. The company said the issue pre-dated COVID-19 and no subsidy had been forthcoming.

This week in a letter published overleaf, one parent outlines how she and others have been scrabbling to try to find a solution: “Due to COVID, we can’t even share lifts. This leaves all of us with children who got the bus unable to get to work on time in the morning, and potentially putting livelihoods at risk.”

She adds: “The congestion and parking situation near Wellsway School in the morning and at the end of school is horrendous; it’s already much worse in Keynsham due to the closure of the High Street and will only be made worse by an extra 50+ families driving there to drop off their children at school.”

Another parent, who tried to organise an alternative service (as we reported in Issue 642) explained: “We had plenty of users but some people couldn’t pay the whole term upfront and started dropping out, which raised the price for everyone else too much. I lobbied the school to provide financial support but to no avail. We had to abandon the plan so are back to square one. 

“If the 17 and 18 buses ran 10 minutes earlier, it could help but as it is, the kids are struggling to get there on time.”

Today Wellsway Multi Academy Trust’s director of education Gary Schlick told us: “We sympathise with families over the loss of the 432 Stagecoach bus service from Longwell Green to IKB Academy and Wellsway School on our Keynsham campus.

“The company was unable to continue this service from South Gloucestershire as it was no longer commercially viable, partly because many more children in the area now choose to attend their local Wellsway MAT school, The Sir Bernard Lovell Academy in Oldland Common.

“COVID-19 has made the situation worse, as some parents are understandably wary of their children using public transport and wish to transport them by car.

“The pandemic has led to increased safety measures at all our sites, though we have tried to minimise the impact on families by avoiding staggered start and finish times for different year groups at our Wellsway campus secondaries.

“We are in talks with First to explore options for altering the timetable of their scheduled services from Longwell Green and Oldland Common to help meet the needs of students from those areas.

“For now, we would encourage all parents to find the most COVID-secure and environmentally-friendly means possible for their children to travel to and from our schools, including cycling or walking at least part of the route.”