Freedom of information response

School transport

Publication date: 
Thursday 27 August 2020
Request: 

1. For the academic year just ended, how many pupils received free home to school transport? 
2. What was the total cost to the local authority of this provision? If possible please break this down by contracts for commercial buses/coaches, and passes for children to travel on public services.
3. How many children received concessionary/spare/vacant seat places, and if possible how much money was received for these?
4. What is the current estimate for how many pupils will receive free home to school transport for the coming academic year and the current estimate of the cost to the authority?
5. Has the authority allowed applications for concessionary/spare/vacant seat places, revised numbers or told parents that there may not be capacity this year because of coronavirus?
6. Is the authority doing anything else to reduce demand for school buses, such as offering to reimburse parents for mileage expenses if they drive their children to school, or recruiting minicabs etc? If so please provide details.

Response: 

1. 1,294 pupils received free home to school transport during the academic year 2019/20.

2. In issuing our response the Council has applied S43 of the Freedom of Information Act.  Please see below

3. Thurrock Council no longer offers concessionary/spare/vacant seats. In order to provide a more efficient service vehicle sizes are reduced to ensure available seats align with the number of eligible children. Also, to eliminate the administrative challenge and parental frustration that occurred when a place was withdrawn from a non-eligible child because an eligible child has been awarded a seat. The concessionary offer was withdrawn in September 2019

4. The current estimate of how many pupils will receive free home to school transport for the coming year is 1,519. In issuing our response the Council has applied S43 of the Freedom of Information Act.  Please see below 

5. Please note the response to question 3. Thurrock Council no longer offers concessionary/spare/vacant seat places.

6. During the height of the COVID 19 Pandemic we continued to transport children as schools reopened shortly after lockdown for vulnerable children and Key Worker’s children. We transported children through the Easter holiday up until the end of the 2019/20 academic year. We were aware of the understandable concerns that parents had around the risks of travel, even on dedicated Home to School Transport, so we were prepared to offer reimbursement to any parent opting to transport their child to school themselves. However, we had no requests. In September 2020, Central Government expects all children to return to school. The robust measures applicable to public transport such as the mandatory wearing of face coverings and the application of social distancing rules will not apply to Home to School transport for a number of reasons outlined in the Department for Education’s latest guidance, but some parents for whom active travel or pubic transport is not an option, may prefer to drive and we will offer reimbursement to those parents in accordance with the extract from the guidance shown below.

“Accepting increased use of cars for longer journeys which cannot be accommodated on public transport, contracted provision (coaches or similar) or realistically switched to active travel

While it is strongly advised that parents, staff, and pupils walk and cycle as an alternative to public transport, to further reduce the demand on public transport and the need for additional capacity, local authorities should accept that those who can drive to school may do so.

Local authorities must give active consideration to the impacts of increased car use on local congestion, and ensure that mitigations to minimise these impacts are implemented through their network management duty. Notwithstanding the above, government expects local authorities to continue to discharge their duties in respect of sustainable travel and transport as placed by Section 508A of the Education Act 1996.”

With regards to Questions 2 and 4, the council are of the view that the release of the information in scope of your request would prejudice its own commercial interests and the commercial interests of the service provider. The reasons for this have been captured below under the public interest test section.

Public Interest Test:

The council have considered the public interest test in relation to section 43 (2) in releasing the information in scope of your request. The outcome of this is below.

  • Public interest in disclosure:
    • Accountability for spending of public money. Where a public authority is purchasing goods/services there is a public interest in ensuring value for money is achieved.
  • Public interest to maintain the exemption:
    • Releasing cost figures for a specific service may affect the company’s ability to commercially tender for the same service in the future.
    • Companies should be able to compete fairly on a level playing field. If the details of costs for services are publically available then this would put the current service provider at a commercial disadvantage should a competitor be made aware of the costs charged.
    • It will hinder the ongoing working relationship between the council and the current service provider.

Based on the above, it is the Council’s view that there is a stronger public interest to maintain the use of the exemption for section 43 (2).

You are free to use any information supplied to you for your own use, including non-commercial research purposes. However, any other type of re-use, for example, by publishing the information or issuing copies to the public will require the permission of the copyright owner.

Where the copyright is owned by Thurrock Council, you must apply to the Council to re-use the information. Please email information.matters@thurrock.gov.uk if you wish to re-use the information you have been supplied. For information where the copyright is owned by another person or organisation, you must apply to the copyright owner to obtain their permission.

Request reference:
FOI 10154