Parents fear their children are not safe after two school buses were replaced by ‘a double-decker with no seatbelts’ in a ‘cost-cutting exercise’.
Cheadle Catholic School, for infants and juniors, was previously served by two buses on separate routes covering different parts of the catchment area.
But at the start of the new school term in September, this was rolled into one service – with transport bosses citing a ‘backdrop of growing costs and fewer dedicated yellow school buses’.
As well as the absence of seatbelts on the new bus, parents are worried about the length of time young children are spending travelling to and from school.
The junior school is in Conway Road, Cheadle Hulme, with the infants next door in Kew Drive.
Council transport bosses say while they appreciate the merged route is not ideal for those affected, the bus and the journey it makes does comply with government guidelines.
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Government guidance states that primary school pupils’ journeys should be no longer than 45 minutes.
But parents claim the new, more circuitous route means this is often exceeded.
Having one parent chaperone to supervise two decks of a bus – with more than 90 children on board – is a further cause for concern, they say.
Natasha O’Brien, who has two daughters at the school, believes the new arrangements are ‘unsafe’ and of no benefit to benefit pupils- while causing frustration and inconvenience for parents.
“It’s very much a cost saving exercise,” she said.
“They have done it to save money – which I appreciate – however, I don’t feel there has been proper consideration of children’s safety on the bus, in terms of how long they spend on the bus.”
Natasha, a business change manager from Cheadle, added: “As a parent, I worry that I’m putting my children on a school bus with no seatbelts on there – there’s one parent looking after them.
“If they are upstairs and something happens downstairs there’s no parental support for the children.”
As an example of how long journeys can be, she says that on the first day of term the bus left school at 3.45pm but did not arrive at the last stop until 4.40pm – a journey of 55 minutes for some children.
“Some of the younger kids aren’t getting home until about one hour after school finishes. I understand the cost but it’s potentially detrimental to our children and not as safe as it was,” she said.
Her views are shared by Kenny Warren, whose four-year-old son started in reception last month.
He wanted him to use the bus – but says a one-way journey can take take a full hour on some days, which he feels is ‘far too long’ for younger children.
Mr Warren said: “We wanted him to get the bus – when the service was split, he would be looking at a 10 minute trip (one way to school). He now has anything between a 40-60 minute trip, depending on traffic
“As a result of this he only gets the bus one way, an already heavily congested [area] – school traffic wise anyway – now has another car on the road to do pick-up as a result of the route being far too longer for infant children.
“In addition there are no seatbelts on the bus which is really worrying for the smaller ones.”
Stephen Rhodes, Transport for Greater Manchester’s TfGM’s customer director and interim head of bus services, has responded to parents’ concerns.
He said: “We understand the critical role school bus services play in ensuring safe travel for pupils accessing education across Greater Manchester.
“Against a backdrop of growing costs and fewer dedicated yellow school buses and to ensure we can still support as many people as possible across the city-region, we have had to change how some services operate this school year.
“For Cheadle Catholic School that has meant merging two bus services into one. Unfortunately this has resulted in additional journey time for some children, and while I appreciate this is not ideal for those affected, the journey times remain within the government guidelines.”
Mr Rhodes added: “Safety is of course always a priority and I know the loss of a service with seatbelts is an additional concern for some parents, but the bus provided is suitable and within all DfT guidelines.
“We will continue to work with the school in response to any concerns and are monitoring this service closely.”