East Anglia free school bus plan

Thousands of Norfolk and Suffolk children who live too close to school to have bus passes could get subsidised travel to encourage parents to leave their cars at home.

Thousands of Norfolk and Suffolk children who live too close to school to have bus passes could get subsidised travel to encourage parents to leave their cars at home.

The move is designed to cut the daily congestion at the school gate - including gas-guzzling “Chelsea tractor” 4X4s that are a common sight at drop-off and pick-up time.

The two counties are looking into providing a heavily-subsidised “smart card” for children to use on public transport to make their school jour-neys more environmentally friendly.

They are set to join forces with Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Essex to make a joint bid to be one of 20 pilot areas for the Department for Education and Skills' (DfES) trial of sustainable school travel plans.

Any initiative would be targeted at the thousands of children who live within three miles of their school but regularly get driven to school by their parents.

All children living three or more miles from school are already entitled to free bus travel, provided by the local authority.

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Richard Snowden, head of pupil and student support at Norfolk County Council, said: “It's to encourage families by providing affordable transport for those who live within three miles of school.

“We are considering a smart card scheme, where pupils are given a card with credit for use on specific bus journeys, like shorter-haul trips to school.

“There is also the potential for discounts on bus journeys in general.”

The move comes 18 months after plans to introduce a cheap public transport scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds in Norfolk was ruled out because of the potential £2m cost.

The proposal, which included discount bus and off-peak rail travel and money-off tokens for taxi fares, received all-party support but failed to make the cut when the 2006-7 budget was finalised.

Mr Snowden said: “The smart card scheme could not be a countywide scheme. It would initially be piloted in an area to see if it was workable.

“We would also need to work with bus companies to see if it would be possible. By working with several authorities we could share and reduce the set-up costs of the scheme.”

He added: “We ought to be able to do more to help youngsters to access public transport. We know that a significant proportion of children living less than three miles from school go backwards and forwards by car.”

The bid has to be in by November 30 this year and, if successful, the counties would get up to £200,000 each to develop the detail of their schemes.

They would run from September 2009 to 2012, attracting around £600,000 from the DfES per year per council.

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