PARENTS have slammed Flintshire County Council for charging ‘extortionate’ rates for a seat on their school bus.

Parents who rely on designated buses to get their children to their chosen school across Flintshire are up in arms about an increased charge of £150 per pupil per term in order to secure a seat on that bus – totalling £450 for a bus seat in a full school year.

The charge comes into effect on September 2 2019 for all children who do not attend the nearest suitable school for them within a three-mile radius of their home and pupils are no longer able to pay a daily rate so must apply for a seat.

Michelle Houndslow, a mother-of two, said she is now “extremely concerned” about getting her son to and from Mold’s Alun School when the new term begins in September.

She said: “My son is currently in Year 10 Mold Alun, having attended there is whole secondary education. Not only am I a single parent, I also work full-time and often have to travel and be away overnight.

“The ability for my son to get to and from school, especially as my mum does not drive and my dad is still also working full time, is crucial.”

Michelle says that the £150 per term charge is ‘extortionate’ compared to previous years when she has paid £80 per term for the through three school years and at the beginning of this academic year it went up to £90 per term.

From September 2019, the bus route used by Michelle’s son – the Z125 service spanning from Halkyn to Mold – will become a dedicated school bus service which no longer allows children to operate using a pay-as-you-use system. Instead they must have applied for a concessionary spare seat.

From July 2020, this service will cease and transport will only be provided for those pupils who are entitled to free home to school transport. For ineligible students, the responsibility to organise alternative transport falls to the parents

The closest school to Michelle would be Holywell High School but would prefer him to stay where is in order to avoid disruption at a crucial point in his education.

She added: “He is expected to achieve A and A*’s next year and I believe this is as a result of the good work Mold Alun do, along with the teaching and learning environment. Am I now expected to move him mid-way through his GCSE’s so I can get him to and from school?”

The concerned parent also raises the issue of a significant number of additional cars being on the roads during rush hour periods with lifts being given to children to avoid the charge, adding to the amount of congestion and pollution since Welsh Government’s climate emergency declaration.

John Jones, a father-of-one from Connah’s Quay, added that his family are unsure how they are going to sort affordable transport means for their 11-year-old daughter who began attending Mold’s Alun School recently.

He said: “The fact that dozens of parents are now facing the very real prospect of having to change schools is putting unneeded stress and pressure on families. There are a lot of people struggling to make ends meet who now will have to make changes that directly affect their children.

“We have been in contact with bus companies, taxis, minibus services but none can help or are affordable. We were hopeful as an alternative bus company has tried their best to help, but sadly, from places in Holywell, Flint and Connah’s Quay, the number of concerned parents are in the hundreds so they cannot help with the high demand and not enough recourses.

“Even if we wanted to move her closer to home, our local high school [Connah’s Quay High School] is already full so we wouldn’t have much luck there.”

Steve Jones, chief officer Streetscene and transportation said: ‘‘In line with Welsh Government Guidelines, Flintshire County Council provides free school transport for eligible pupils under its current policy. To do this, coaches, minibuses and taxis are procured specifically for school transport and the arrangement is designed to run in the most cost-effective way to serve those pupils who are entitled to free transport.

“Any spare seats on the routes can be sold to pupils who are not entitled to free travel. These places are called Concessionary Spare Seats. Concessionary seats cannot be guaranteed and parents who choose to send their children to schools other than their nearest and most appropriate school are not entitled to free transport and are responsible for transporting their children to and from school each day.’’