With the new school term about to start, families across Wales are being encouraged by the Welsh Government to consider the different transport options available for pupils returning to the classrooms.
Pupils and students intending to travel to and from schools or colleges on scheduled public transport services are also being encouraged to think of others and act responsibly when travelling. Meanwhile, other public transport users are being urged to try to avoid non-essential journeys around the start and end of the school day in order to ensure sufficient capacity for the young travellers.
Pupils in Wales will begin returning at the start of the new term on Tuesday 2 September, with a two-week period for schools to finalise plans. The full return of pupils will come on Monday 14 September.
Over the summer months, the Welsh Government has been supporting the development of ‘back to school’ transport plans with local authorities, which are responsible for assessing the needs of learners and providing home to school transport for eligible pupils.
This week operational guidance for schools and FE colleges was amended to require local authorities to undertake risk assessments of their estates to determine if face coverings should be recommended for their staff and young people in communal locations, which include dedicated school and college transport. Any young person aged over 11 travelling on a scheduled public transport was already expected to wear a face covering in line with regulations.
With public transport providers experiencing substantial revenue losses since the COVID lockdown, the Welsh Government has provided significant funding over recent months to help keep companies afloat. On 11 August, £10m was committed to help the bus industry get more passengers to school, college and work, building on prior funding packages for both bus and rail. On the same day the Welsh Government published updated operational guidance for schools, including guidance on transportation.This funding is designed to help local authorities to bolster existing scheduled services with additional duplicate buses to carry pupils and students where necessary and appropriate.
Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters is supporting a Sustrans Cymru-led call for parents to leave their cars at home when accompanying their children to school and encourage them to travel in greener, healthier ways. This follows further Welsh Government investment to help people walk and cycle to school instead. In June, a £15.4m funding package was announced for ‘COVID-proof’ travel that would make a difference in the short-term, £2m of which was specifically designated for schemes around schools.
Lee Waters said: “There is no one size fits all approach to school transport and families will have a variety of circumstances to consider. In many areas of Wales it may be most appropriate to walk or cycle to school. This has benefits for air quality and public health, and embeds active travel into our culture in the long-term. Where this is not currently possible pupils will also make use of school transport and other forms of transport. We have made significant investment in public transport to help keep companies running, but there can be no escaping the inevitable disruption coronavirus has caused.
“We’ve worked closely with local authorities, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and bus operators to ensure as much transport as possible is running. We head into the new term in unfamiliar circumstances and it’s therefore vital for families to consider the best options available to them.”
Nigel Winter, Managing Director, Stagecoach in South Wales said: "Working with Welsh Government and the Local Authorities in South East Wales, Stagecoach will be providing a further 50 extra dedicated buses for schools and colleges providing additional passenger capacity for pupils and students from September. In addition, Stagecoach will be returning up to a further 70 buses to general service from 7 September providing greater passenger capacity across the public local bus network.
“A range of measures have been put in place to help people feel safe and confident in using Stagecoach services. Passengers are encouraged to buy their tickets online in advance on the Stagecoach website and mobile tickets can be purchased on the Stagecoach app. Contactless payments are available on board as well as an exact fare policy to reduce money handling.”
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