Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Call for school travel shake-up

School bus
American-style yellow school buses have been introduced in the UK

Ministers and English local authorities must provide more alternatives to car travel for pupils, MPs have said.

The Commons Transport Committee said it was disappointed plans had not been in place before the introduction of 14-19 diplomas, which can mean more travel.

The committee recommended a move towards more walking, cycling and American-style yellow school buses.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it would be looking at the committee's recommendations "in detail".

Three-mile rule

Some 30% of children go to school by car and there are concerns that more could be walking or cycling.

Some councils do offer free school buses but many stick to a rule that restricts their availability to children who live more than three miles from school.

The committee said the restriction should be reviewed and it criticised the government for rejecting the extension to children of concessionary fares currently available to pensioners and disabled travellers.

Travel should not present a barrier to accessing the new diploma courses
Louise Ellman
Commons Transport Committee

Transport company FirstGroup and former education secretary David Blunkett have campaigned for the introduction of American-style school buses which are free and have dedicated drivers.

But the MPs were worried about the cost and said that having buses which were only for the school run would mean some were used for just two hours a day.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman said: ''Young people deserve safe and affordable travel to education, leisure and employment.

"The journeys people make when young will influence their preferences and habits in adulthood.

"Both the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Department for Transport urgently need to identify how they are going to ensure children and young adults are not denied opportunities because public transport is either inadequate or too costly."

Transport funding

Former Green Party candidate for London mayor, Sian Berry, said "radical action" was needed to reverse the trend of driving over cycling or walking.

"It [the school run] has such effect on local air quality, a massive effect on congestion and of course effects on children's health and safety as they travel to school.

"So it's just very important that we deal with it."

The National Union of Teachers' education chief John Bangs said the report contained some "excellent ideas".

He said it was sensitive to parents whose children could not get community transport or car share with other families.

The DfT said it would consider the recommendations over the next two months before responding to Parliament.

A spokesman said: "The committee is right that 'there is no single magic bullet solution to improving school travel' - what works in some areas, simply won't in others.

"Travel costs should not be a barrier to any child going to school or college of their parents' choice. That's why we expanded free transport eligibility for poor families."

He added that a £140m scheme was set up in 2003 to help local authorities and head teachers encourage more pupils to walk, cycle or take the bus.

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