Through the joint Travel to School Initiative project DCSF and DfT officials regularly meet and are working closely on travel matters, encouraging children to travel sustainably (walking, cycling, using the bus and reducing car use).
Local authorities (LAs) have to make transport arrangements where they consider it ‘necessary’ to secure a child's attendance at school. Where they consider transport ‘necessary’, it must be free of charge. LAs have wide discretion in deciding whether transport is necessary, but they must provide free home to school transport for pupils of compulsory school age who are attending their nearest suitable school, provided that the school is beyond the statutory walking distances (two miles for pupils below the age of eight and three miles for those aged eight and over).
The Education and Inspections Act 2006 extended entitlement to free school travel for pupils entitled to free school meals or whose parents are in receipt of maximum working tax credit. Primary school pupils aged over eight have been entitled to free travel to their nearest school where this is more than two miles from their home. At secondary age (11-16), pupils attending a suitable school that is between two and six miles from the child’s home, (as long as there are not more than three nearer schools) and those attending their nearest school preferred on the grounds of religion and belief, between two and 15 miles, have been entitled to free transport since September 2008.
At present, there are no proposals to make concessionary travel a statutory entitlement for young people.
Following the introduction of the national bus concession for older and eligible disabled people from April this year, the Government are spending around £1 billion a year on concessionary travel. Any extensions to the scope of the statutory minimum would bring with them associated costs and would require careful consideration of the full impacts. Research commissioned by the Department for Transport estimates that expending the statutory concession to 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education could cost around £245 million per year, while concessionary travel to all young people under 19 and in full-time education could cost around £1.4 billion per year.
At present, 48 per cent. of young people walk or cycle to school so a blanket concession could encourage young people who currently walk or cycle to take the bus. However, local authorities can use their existing powers to offer local concessionary travel to young people.
Although the Government have no plans to make concessionary travel a statutory entitlement for young people, the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 preserves the ability of local authorities to use their discretionary powers to create concessionary travel schemes for children and young people. Local authorities are best placed to know about local needs and circumstances, including any discounts bus operators offer at their commercial discretion. Many local authorities do offer some form of concession for young people.