Lancaster school bus campaign revs up to challenge county council's 'solution'
Parents, teachers, councillors and Lancaster Bus Users’ Group are revving up their campaign to restore the S24 Marsh to Central Lancaster High School bus.
Following County Highways’ decision to axe the S24, Lancashire County Council had suggested that children attending Central Lancaster High School use the Stagecoach service bus leaving the Marsh at 7.39am – more than half an hour earlier than the S24, which left at 8.10am.
But campaigners say this offer creates more problems than it solves. The earlier time will inconvenience families, the 50 or so schoolchildren will have to spend ten minutes in the bus station unsupervised, and then they will arrive at school 30 minutes earlier than the school opening time.
The next service bus is half an hour later, and so wouldn’t leave enough time for the children to get into school, which starts at 8.40am.
Campaigners say the return journey is unsuitable too, as there is a very short time between the end of the school day and the return bus, which will not stop outside the school, but on Keswick Road just five minutes after school finishes.
Central Lancaster High School’s acting principal, Victoria O’Farrell, said: ''There are three main problems with this current offer on the table: The morning pick-up is too early, the afternoon pick-up is too early and the Stagecoach service bus is not big enough to accommodate the pupil users and public users safely.
"My worry would be that not all passengers would be seated and they would be in danger of falling when the bus is moving.
"I’d also be concerned that if the service bus was full, children would be turned away and wouldn’t be able to get to school, leaving them stranded and vulnerable.
"Following the restrictions of Covid-19, we are keen to get all our pupils into the normal routine of being in school, and on time.
"Expecting children to get an earlier bus and wait around in the bus station and then outside school presents barriers to their attendance.
"It also puts them in a vulnerable position especially during the dark winter months when the weather can be poor. I would like to see a return of the S24, bus which was a direct and safe service, and at acceptable times for our children and families.''
Ms O’Farrell added: “Many of the Marsh children may qualify for free transport which the county council has a legal obligation to supply.
"We are currently working with the county council to investigate whether families eligible for Free School Meals and the distance to Central Lancaster High School from the Marsh satisfy the criteria for free school transport.
"We are pleased that the county council is supporting us with the investigations, with the aim to provide a bus service for our families.''
Eco Socialist city councillor Faye Penny - whose daughter uses the S24 bus - is worried that the earlier bus will create added stress for families and children.
She said: “As a busy parent, I need to know that once my daughter is on the school bus, her journey will be safe and hassle-free.
"That may not be the case with county’s current proposal to keep children waiting around in the bus station and at the school. It seems like county has ducked the issue and is passing the problem onto the children, families and the school.”
Jim Davies, chair of Lancaster Bus Users' Group, would also like to see the return of the S24 service.
"At a time when the county council has announced forthcoming great improvements to Lancaster's bus services through the National Bus Strategy, it is very disappointing to see that it is simultaneously proposing to remove a bus used regularly by a large number of children to get to school," he said.
"If the council is expecting a share of the announced multi-billion government funding for new buses it can surely put some aside to keep an existing, well-used service operating."
Mandy Bannon, Green city councillor representing Marsh ward, added: “County really needs to reconsider their offer of expecting children to catch a much earlier bus.
"It fails to address the main issue - that Central High pupils travelling from the Marsh area of the city need a direct and reliable service straight to school so that their mornings are as stress-free as possible, and during this time of climate emergency, the county council should be doing everything in their power to get as many schoolchildren using public transport.”