Friday 13th started much like any other day in my house: getting up, getting the kids ready, taking some of them to school while others catch the bus….until my eldest son called and said he’d been refused entry to his school bus because he’d forgotten his bus pass. He’s just started Sixth Form, these things happen, so why, when it was a first offence and he’d had the same bus driver ALL WEEK and he knew damn well he has a valid pass, WHY was he not allowed on?
Cue an incandescent (and very sweary) me driving (probably quite dangerously) halfway round sodding Buckinghamshire to take the errant child to school barely in time to make his first class while I ranted at the poor love at how utterly disgusting the bus company was, when I pay £2000 a year for my sons’ bus passes…£2000 that would surely be better spent on clothes (for me), shoes (for me), nice bits of furniture or a flipping holiday. Turns out, this directive doesn’t come from the bus company at all but Buckinghamshire County Council. Having made as much noise as my limited following on twitter would allow I did manage to attract the attention of a Bucks CC councillor who has offered to help me and to explain the story further here is the message I have sent him:
Thank you for your tweet. I will endeavour to explain the situation I have discovered as a result of my eldest son being refused entry onto his school bus on Friday 13th September after forgetting his bus pass.
My son is 16 years old and has just started the sixth form at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury. Both he and his younger brother (who attends Waddesdon School) divide their time between my house in Milton Keynes and their father’s house in Waddesdon and for the weeks when they are here they catch the bus to school. My elder son gets the 841 from MK to Henry Floyd and my younger son the 973 from Winslow to Waddesdon School and we have had this arrangement in place since the start of the academic year in 2012. I purchase the passes through Amey Client Transport Services on the Buckinghamshire County Council discretionary scheme at a cost of approximately £2000 per annum.
On Friday my elder son forgot to take his bus pass with him because he had changed his jacket at the last minute that morning. This is surely a simple mistake any child could make and he thought he would be okay because when it happened (just once) the preceding year, the bus driver took his name, told him to get an emergency ticket from school for the afternoon journey home and let him on. But not this time, this time my son was refused entry and the bus driver, the same one that had driven him to and from school all week and knew that he possesses a valid bus pass) stated that Buckinghamshire County Council are now operating a strict “no pass, no travel” policy with no exceptions. As I’m sure you can imagine I was livid when my son called me to say he’d not been allowed on this bus and immediately assumed that the bus driver was in a bad mood and decided to take it out on a likely looking teenager. At this time I was already driving my second son to his father’s house and then, as I have three further children, I needed to take them to school and pre-school before I started my working day. Instead of this both me and my husband were made late for work as he had to sort out the small children while I made the 20 mile round trip to Aylesbury, only getting my son to school in the nick of time for his first lesson. At this time the main source of my incandescent rage was the unnecessary cost to both my time and my pocket because of the extra car journey I had to undertake as a result of what I thought was one driver’s petty unpleasantness. When I eventually got home I emailed Amey Client Transport Services, Bucks County Council and the bus company looking for an explanation (see attached Email1). At this time I also emailed Bucks CC under the Freedom of Information Act requesting clarification of the exact policy pertaining to home to school transport and what occurs in the event of a forgotten bus pass.
Dear Sir,I am writing to make a complaint in the strongest terms about the fact that my son Jake was refused entry to his school bus this morning, the 841 from Milton Keynes to Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School provided by Heyfordian because he had forgotten his bus pass.
My son has been catching this bus every other week for the last couple of years and has only ever forgotten his pass on one former occasion. The bus driver this morning was the same one that had driven this service every day this week with the exception of one afternoon and was also the main driver on this service for the last school year. In short, he knows my son and would also have been aware that he possesses a current, valid pass having seen it every day. Would it really have been too much to expect a little discretion from this driver? Not only was my son left stranded in the rain wondering how he was going to cover the 20 miles to school (and sixth formers already have enough on their plates without such worries) but the knock on effects to my whole family have been enormous and completely unnecessary.
I have five children all of whom have a different place to be each day, none of them currently attend the same school/pre-school or nursery. Both my husband and I work full time and do not have time to make extraneous, unnecessary journeys and this is why I pay the frankly extortionate fees for home to school transport each year, upwards of £1500 per annum in Jake’s case now he is in the Sixth Form. To be refused entry to the bus on one day because of an honest mistake is extremely galling given the cost of a bus pass in comparison to a Buckinghamshire-wide annual pass provided by a local bus company. Today’s antics by a jobsworth driver that could so easily have shown a bit of compassion just go to prove to me that there is no value for money in a school bus pass provided by Amey Transport Services. If my son regularly forgot his pass I would understand this stance but the fact is that he has only ever forgotten it once before and this really was a genuine mistake thanks to a change of suit for school.
The driver told my son that it is Buckinghamshire County Council’s policy to refuse entry with no pass, whether they know them or not. I have already written to Bucks CC requesting under the Freedom of Information Act the exact policy on school transport and what happens in the event of a forgotten pass. I am also somewhat troubled by the driver’s behaviour when it is clear that he had the power not to ruin someone’s day, does he really care so little about his charges that he will in good conscience make them unable to make the journey to or late for school when he didn’t need to? Would he have shown the same lack of interest to, for example, a seemingly more vulnerable Year 7 girl? In the event I had to return home and make the 40 mile round trip myself, barely getting Jake to school on time for his first lesson, making me extremely late for work and my husband had to take our other children to their schools etc making him extremely late for work as well. This really is unacceptable and I fear that the tone of my email belies the fury and disgust I feel at this appallingly bad and unnecessary treatment at the hands of a single Heyfordian driver, perhaps only the use of expletives (which I will not resort to) would portray how I am feeling right now. Not only have you ruined Jake’s day but an entire family’s.
Fiona Flaherty (Mrs)
Within half an hour I received a phone call from the bus company who wanted to explain what had happened. They told me that from 9th September 2013 Buckinghamshire County Council were implementing a new policy on school bus travel whereby if a child does not have a valid bus pass with them, they will be refused travel. I was incredulous, to say the least, and asked him if this would still be the case if the child were in Year 7. He confirmed that this policy covers all children regardless of their age. He also told me that if they were caught carrying a child without a pass they would be issued with a “penalty point”. If they accumulate 20 penalty points over a given period (I am not clear on what the period length actually is) then they are no longer allowed to drive that route. From what I was told this policy is now in place to ensure that the buses are not carrying more children than they should be, if only children with a valid ticket are on the service then they are meeting their health and safety requirements by not having an overloaded bus. I couldn’t quite believe this and wondered if the man from the bus company was spinning me a yarn to get rid of me. I struggled to envisage a scenario where anyone that doesn’t have a valid bus pass would try to catch a bus that they weren’t entitled to travel on, when these are private bus services. I also couldn’t see how the refusal to allow my son on the bus he catches every day would overload a bus when he does have a valid ticket, which the driver knew, it’s just that he had left it at home.
This policy was reiterated when I received an email from Amey Client Transport Services in response to my initial complaint (see attached Email2).
Dear Mrs Flaherty,
Thank you for your email.
Buckinghamshire County Council operate a no pass no travel policy. The driver would not be aware if your son is entitled to travel and was correctly following what we have instructed him to do as we have instructed operators to do across the County. Buckinghamshire County Council state that parents should accompany their child until they are accepted onto the vehicle or you should have in place a contingency should your child not be able to travel.
We carry out pass checks to ensure the vehicle is not overloaded due to health and safety reasons.
Please ensure Jake carries his pass at all times when you wish him to travel to school. If you are not happy with the service provided then you may request a refund and we will refund you for the days remaining that you have paid for.
Senior Transport Officer | Consulting
I take issue with pretty much all of Rajesh’s points: firstly that the driver would not be aware if my son is entitled to travel. It was the same driver it was the day before…and the day before. It stands to reason that if he had a valid pass on Monday to Thursday in a given week he is likely to still be entitled to travel on the Friday. Buckinghamshire County Council do not issue weekly or daily passes so common sense would indicate that an issued pass will, at the very least, cover a child for half a term. Rajesh also mentions the pass checks carried out for health and safety reasons to ensure the bus is not overloaded. Having thought the man from the bus company had made this up, I was astonished that this is genuinely the justification for such a policy. Indeed, while my initial outrage was selfish given the cost to me after I already fork out a small fortune for the privilege of conveying my sons on school transport I started to think of the wider implications this blanket policy has. That Buckinghamshire County Council will leave a child stranded in order to maintain correct health and safety procedures, whether a child is known to the driver or not is incomprehensible and reprehensible. Rajesh further states in his email that “parents should accompany their child until they are accepted onto the vehicle or you should have in place a contingency should your child not be able to travel”. Having not been aware of this policy I thoroughly checked all correspondence I have received from Amey Transport Services as well as the Terms and Conditions and the School Transport Policy and Guidance as found on the Bucks CC website: http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/bcc/schools/paid_for_school_transport.page
, copies of both of which I have attached.
You will see that the wording of these documents differs slightly: one states that you “may” be refused travel without a valid pass, the other that you are “likely” to be refused travel. Neither categorically states that you WILL be refused travel. You will also see no reference to parents having to accompany their children to the bus. I suspect that this was something Rajesh may have made up because I wasn’t clear on how parents are meant to accompany their children to the bus at the end of the day, or indeed why they would bother using a bus service if they had to do that.
Following Rajesh’s unsatisfactory response I made several further FOI requests:
And four further in my (somewhat sarcastic) response to Rajesh:
Thank you for your email. Please can you advise me UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where it is stated on the Buckinghamshire County Council website that they operate a no pass, no travel policy? I have studied the correspondence I have received from Amey Transport Services which points me to the school transport page at www.buckscc.gov.uk/bcc/schools/paid_for_school_transport.page for “full discretionary fees and discretionary guidelines” but am unable to find any such clause under either the “School transport policy and guidance” or the “Terms and conditions” pdfs. Indeed, in the small section that talks about travel itself both documents contain slightly differing information: one states that without a pass you “may” be refused travel, the other that you are “likely to” be refused travel. Neither categorically states that you WILL be refused travel.
Could you also advise UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where it states that parents must accompany children to the bus stop, as I cannot find a clause relating to this at all. Are you suggesting that parents must also accompany their children to the bus when they are on their way home from school as well? Rather defeats the object of using a bus service don’t you think?
Please can you advise me UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT where parents and schools using the discretionary travel service were informed of these changes to the terms and conditions of the service put in place by Buckinghamshire County Council.
Finally I would like to be advised UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT about the no travel policy: who suggested it, who voted for it, how were the public consulted (including where the information was made public)?
Since this happened I have done a little research and have found that there are 66 schools in the Buckinghamshire area using home to school transport, either free or paid for under the discretionary scheme. This must amount to many thousands of children of all ages (including many at primary, infants and junior schools) travelling every day across the whole of Bucks. Of those children it stands to reason that several of them will be likely to forget their bus pass on any given day: they’re children, they are forgetful. To leave these children stranded seems to me an unnecessarily harsh punishment, not only upsetting them by making them worry how they will get to school but also to my mind putting their lives in real danger. Not all children have good road sense, many children’s parents will have already left for the day to go to work (despite Rajesh’s assertion that parents must accompany their children I’m sure relatively few do) and how many children could realistically fight off an abduction attempt? This may seem and extreme scenario to use as an example but there have been several abduction attempts reported in this area in recent months and years, are Buckinghamshire County Council so obsessed with not overloading their buses that they will eschew fulfilling their responsibility to keep children safe by leaving them by the side of the road?
With this in mind I would genuinely like to know if Buckinghamshire County Council are allowed to refuse to allow children to travel without a pass for “health and safety reasons” if they have not first consulted with the public on a matter that, to my mind directly affects the safety of thousands of children as I can find no published record of this. I would also like to know why schools and parents have not been informed of this change of policy. I assume this is the case, I have received no communication about it, nor can I find any on the Bucks CC website. At the very least if a new policy in in effect that endangers children in this way I feel parents have a right to know.
My next move will be to contact each of the schools affected to find out whether they were aware of this policy and, if I can find the addresses, I will also contact the governors of each school. After that, who knows, but I am determined that I will get this ridiculous decision overturned for the safety of all of our children.
So now we wait to hear back. And in the meantime I shall bombard Bucks schools and Boards of Governors with emails until such time as I get what I want.