Kent parents face increased school travel costs as new smartcard Freedom Pass given the green light.
Parents face increased costs on school travel for their children amid a major shake-up to the popular Freedom Pass scheme which will see unrestricted use stopped.
While families will still buy the pass for £100 – including for those aged 16-19 – the new smartcard-type pass will instead have limited credit.
For 11-16-year-olds, this will be £350 and for older children £250.
Once that credit runs out, the financial burden will fall to parents.
Currently, the Freedom Pass offers unrestricted use during the school week and weekends for a one-off payment of £100 – but costing cash-strapped Kent County Council £13.5 million a year.
The roll-out of the subsidised travel to 16-19-year-olds – following a 16,000-signature strong petition by parents to extend the Freedom Pass to older students – would add an additional £6m.
KCC says the new plan would help cover the cost of the roll-out to all students aged 11-19.
Despite opposition to the overhaul, the proposal was voted through at a meeting of the environment, highways and waste cabinet committee on Friday.
Cabinet member for transport David Brazier said in spite of the upcoming changes it was still a “very good scheme”.
“We have not abolished it. It would be quite easy for this KCC paper to be about the abolition, but we know how valued it (the Freedom Pass) is and to what extent young people and parents rely on it,” he said.
But others warned of the financial burden on parents, particularly those whose children go to schools miles away from where they live.
Critics stressed that families may have chosen a closer school had they known of the upcoming changes.
“Parents made the decision on schooling based on the Freedom Pass (in its current form),” said Lib Dem member Rob Bird.
“So, if a parent wants their child to go to a school 12 miles away they think it will cost £100. Now they are looking at costs of £800-£900 per annum. That is completely unaffordable for some families.
“I’m not talking about deprived families but ordinary working class families. It will put them in a difficult situation.”
Labour member Colin Caller put forward an amendment including the possibility of keeping the Freedom Pass in its current form, but restricted instead to just school days, with no weekend travel.
But director of highways and transportation John Burr stressed that weekend use of the pass was small anyway and that restricting it to journeys to and from school would stop children being able to attend after-school clubs.
A review of the new scheme, set to be rolled out in September 2014, will be carried out within six months.
Original article can be found on yourcanterbury.co.uk: http://www.yourcanterbury.co.uk/news/kent_parents_face_increased_school_travel_costs_as_new_smartcard_freedom_pass_given_the_green_light_1_3110567