Child only buses to be introduced to help public transport cope with schools reopening
PUBLISHED: 15:37 03 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:53 03 September 2020
Extra ‘child only’ bus services are set to be introduced and commuters urged to avoid school rush-hour in order to give priority to pupils when Norfolk schools reopen next week.
The Department for Education (DfE) has issued guidance to local authorities for school transport arrangements ahead of all pupils returning to school.
In Norfolk, about 13,000 pupils each year are eligible for funded school transport. Most travel on dedicated school buses while thousands more use public transport.
Bus operator First said with its services operating at 50pc capacity additional buses were being added to routes that carry the most school pupils to cope with demand.
These services will be designed exclusively for children and will not have social distancing, but wherever possible pupils will be urged to sit with others in their school “bubble.”
Meanwhile. Konectbus plans to introduce clearly marked “busy bus zones” at the front of its buses that are on school routes to separate socially distancing regular adult passengers from school children.
Last month the DfE announced a £40m pot to help fund arrangements for children using school buses, some of which Norfolk County Council has used to fund additional services.
Niki Park, head of passenger transport, said: “Clearly there are lots of children that travel by public transport, especially at schools and colleges in Norwich and King’s Lynn. We have used some of the additional government funding to put on duplicate relief vehicles that will be just for school children.
“For example we have a big movement into Norwich to Notre Dame High School from Great Yarmouth, so rather than them getting the normal First bus because it would be too full, there will be a dedicated school bus. And because it will be only used by school children they won’t have to socially distance. This will also free up capacity for the general members of the public on the normal service.”
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Extra children only buses are also being introduced for pupils at Wymondham College, Ormiston Victory Academy, Acle High, Framingham Earl High, Caister High, Cliff Park Ormiston Academy, Ormiston Venture Academy, Lynn Grove Academy, Flegg High, and East Norfolk Sixth Form College.
Meanwhile a new 46 service between Wisbech and King’s Lynn will be solely for school pupils.
The DfE guidance states that social distancing is not required on dedicated school buses, which often carry the same group of children daily.
However safety measures recommended to lessen the risks include more frequent cleaning of buses, maximising ventilation through opening windows and ceiling vents as well as staggering school start times.
Children will not have to wear face coverings on school buses but they are compulsory on public transport for children 11 and over.
Seb Gasse, assistant director education strategy and infrastructure, said: “For dedicated school transport the requirements are not the same as on public transport.
“For many children the difference will be to do with making sure they wash their hands before they enter a vehicle, sanitising and making sure they wash their hands when they come off the bus.
“On the buses they will be sitting together with the people that they are in the same classes with wherever possible.”
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Headteachers will be able to issue sanctions or support for children to make sure the guidance is being followed on school buses.
Ms Park said: “The guidance from the DfE makes it very clear it is not the bus driver’s role to police it. We are hoping that parents will instill the message as with any other behaviour on a school bus. We expect children to sit nicely and do as they are told and it is for parents and schools to enforce it.”
Norfolk County Council has also launched a campaign to discourage the people from travelling on public transport at school times.
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We’ve been working hard to make sure government guidelines can be followed to help keep children safe on school transport when term starts in September.”
In addition parents and pupils are also being encouraged to walk, cycle or use a scooter to get to school where possible.
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