CONTROVERSIAL plans to increase subsidised school bus fares in Wrexham have cleared the final hurdle.
The decision by Wrexham Council’s executive board to increase fares on 15 subsidised school bus routes from £1.10 to £1.70 was called in before a special meeting of the customers, performance and resources scrutiny committee yesterday.
Members of the Wrexham Independents Group put forward a motion to refer the decision back to the executive board stating the 55 per cent increase was unfair in the current economic climate.
But it was ultimately defeated by eight votes to four as members of the administration claimed if fares were not brought in line with current commercial rates soon then the services could be lost altogether.
Cllr Arfon Jones raised a number of concerns at the meeting about the decision to increase fares, describing it as a “double whammy” for parents facing welfare reforms.
He said: “The purpose of calling in the decision of the executive board to this scrutiny committee is to clarify a number of unanswered questions and also to question the fairness of the decision.
“This will affect 600 children on 15 buses and will increase costs by £115 per child per year. Many of these routes serve the more deprived areas of the county borough with several services from Caia Park and Plas Madoc being affected.”
Some councillors questioned the level of the increase that was approved.
Cllr Mike Edwards said: “In the report it says quite clearly commercial rates are between £1.40 to £1.70 so I’m asking why we’ve picked the top end of that range?”
Cllr Bob Dutton, lead member for environment said subsidised school bus fares were £1 when they were originally set in 1998 and have only increased by 10p since.
He said: “There is concern about the level of the increase that’s proposed but this is not a mandatory service. As everyone knows we are being forced to make savings of about £30million in the next year.
“As I’ve stressed the service could be withdrawn once and for all and that’s something the authority may have to consider in future.”
Running the buses currently costs the council £195,230 per year.
The local authority needs to make savings of £126,000 after the Welsh Government cut its supported public transport grant from £800,000 to £674,000 for 2013-14.
Cllr Jones’ motion to refer the recommendation back to the executive board with a number of recommendations including that fares be increased to the lesser amount of £1.40 per day was defeated.
Speaking after the meeting, Independents Group leader Cllr David A. Bithell, said: “Wrexham Council has just had one of the biggest settlements from the Welsh Government. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and it’s 55 per cent at a time when parents can’t afford to pay it.”