Raising school bus fares throughout County Durham was necessary due to the “unprecedented pressures” on the local authority’s finances, families have been told. 

Durham County Council will increase the cost of concessionary fares to £2 from £1.63 to bring them into line with similar fares throughout the region - people under 22 can currently buy a single ticket for £1 on all registered local bus services.

An initial cost of £2.80 was proposed by the authority but was later lowered to £2 after parents and councillors said it was too expensive, especially during a cost of living crisis, with the council later noting  such a rise would be “inappropriate”

Transport for almost 9,000 children and young people is provided every day, but bosses have said it must make changes to protect the future of the service. A council report states it overspent £3.9 million on Home to School Transport in 2022/23, and it is due to rise by a further £5.7 million next year. 

The fare rise is expected to raise a further £40,000 a year. 

Cllr Richard Bell, cabinet member for Economy, told a Durham County Council cabinet meeting:  “The council is facing unprecedented pressures on the financing of its services and must continue to look at ways we can meet the needs of our citizens as efficiently and affordably as possible.  

A 2021 review of the service found the authority provides services beyond its statutory duty and which are not provided in other local authority areas. 

In a bid to cut costs, the new changes also include: phasing out of some concessionary travel routes that do not fall under the council’s statutory duty and carrying out physical works to improve routes currently classified as “unsafe”, which would enable some pupils to walk or cycle to school. 

However, some people who responded to the council’s plans said if the bus was withdrawn in rural areas there is no alternative viable way for children to get to school other than their parents driving them. There is currently no appropriate public transport alternative and walking or cycling would not be safe. 

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Cllr Ted Henderson, cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, added: “Home to school transport is a vital service for families to ensure children and young people attend school in a safe way. It is a complex operation and involves delivering one thousand transport routes and working with 300 contractors and suppliers. 

“While the county council must continue the statutory duty to provide free transport who meet specific criteria, we must also look at the sustainability of the services and explore positive opportunities to transform the provision and control the expenditure.”

“Feedback from the consultation has been very supportive of the council’s proposals, and provides a strong base for a transformation programme for the service. However, we have also listened to the feedback in relation to the proposed £2.80 charge per day for the concessionary scheme and have reduced it to £2 per day.”