PARENTS are facing pupils’ bus fare price increases of around 33 per cent after months of negotiations between headteachers, transport firms and a council brought the home to school services back from the brink of being cancelled.

Council leaders in Darlington are now facing calls to subsidise the services and lobby the government for extra funding following legislation forcing bus firms to buy new transport to enable disabled children to access the service, leading to higher costs.

Before Christmas it had been feared fares would have to double to around £6 a day for pupils at schools including Hummersknott, Carmel and Hurworth, and at one point there were concerns that all home to school bus services would have to be cancelled from the beginning of next month.

But after several rounds of meetings and efforts by the schools and the council to reorganise services and extend contract lengths, indicative prices of around £4 a day have been given and it is hoped schedules of prices will be given to parents later this week.

Councillor Paul Crudass, the borough council’s children and young people portfolio holder, said: “This is the best possible outcome we could have expected.”

However, schools are warning the prices will depend on the number of students on the buses and if there are insufficient pupils, a service could become unviable. Most under-16s at secondary schools only get free fares if they live more than three miles from the nearest suitable school.

Parent Pauline Watson, of Parkside, whose daughter goes to Hummersknott, said paying £3 a day for the school bus fares had been a struggle and £4 a day would be too much. She said: “There are more parents who aren’t going to pay, but what are we going to do? At the end of the day its our children’s safety. I just want to feel she can go out and get to school safely.

“At no point have they said why don’t we have a public consultation. They just keep on sending us emails telling us how much we have to pay.”

Hurworth School head Dean Judson said while he was hoping to limit fares to £3.80 for his pupils, but different schools would face different costs.

Carmel College principal Mike Shorten said: “We are hoping the local authority will help balance these figures until at least the end of this academic year.”

The council’s former children and young people portfolio holder Councillor Cyndi Hughes said it had been confirmed to her that the authority did have sufficient funds in its coffers to subsidise school bus fares in the short-term. She added: “The government will have to do something about this situation, which is by no means just affecting Darlington. The intention of this legislation is to enable disabled children to travel with their counterparts, but it will, if anything, put a spanner in the works of that aim.”