Wheathampstead girl left stranded by bus over fare row

AN 11-year-old girl was left stranded after she was refused travel on her bus to school because she couldn’t afford an adult fare.

The youngster from Wheathampstead was trying to board the 866 Centrebus to get to Roundwood Park School in Harpenden when she was asked for the adult fare of �5, rather than the �2.70 child fare.

Unable to pay, the driver left her at the bus stop.

And that is not the first time it has happened to the Year 7 girl, whose mother Claire is engaged in a frustrating dialogue with Herts County Council to try to determine why her daughter’s travel to school is proving to be such a nightmare.

With an older son already at Roundwood Park School she had assumed her daughter would be eligible for free school transport as he is.

Claire said: “My son goes to Roundwood Park because he didn’t get a place at Sir John Lawes school, which was our first choice. He got offered a place at Roundwood and a free bus pass. It made sense to keep our children together because we both work and if days aren’t the same, it could be quite disruptive. But it seems that in choosing Roundwood for our daughter’s first choice school, we are not eligible for free transport because it’s not the closest school.”

Despite a summer attempting to establish if her daughter would receive free transport, she was informed the week before school restarted that she would not.

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Claire added: “I had no idea it would prove so costly or so upsetting for my daughter. She’s very intimidated by the way she’s been treated. This is an important period of transition from primary to secondary and she’s having to contend with such horrible conditions. We’re very frustrated.”

Conversations with the county council have left Claire exasperated. She claims they’ve been slow to respond, if at all in some cases, and wonders how parents were supposed to choose public transport for their children while incidents like this happen.

Claire complained about her daughter being stranded to Centrebus, who offered a temporary solution. If her daughter carried her passport with her, she would be charged a child’s fare. Claire said: “But even this has been questioned by a few drivers who have had to call back to head office to confirm it’s acceptable.”

And despite taking her passport with her and being in a school uniform, Claire’s daughter has still been charged an adult fare on a couple of occasions.

With an annual season ticket costing �588, Claire is curious to know if other parents are aware of the cost of sending their children to school on the bus, particularly given the announcement last month that all free school transport in Hertfordshire would be scrapped in 2012.

Families living in villages around St Albans and Harpenden could see travel costs hitting �1,000 per child per year by 2013.

Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow said the high costs would be a nasty surprise for many families, particularly given that places would not be guaranteed, even if parents were willing to pay.

Cllr Shardlow is working closely with Claire and other affected families to see if they can appeal against the decision not to give them free transport, given that there are no schools within three miles of Wheathampstead.

Claire has purchased a �92 ticket for next half term – a period of seven weeks – to get her daughter to school.

A spokesperson for Herts County Council stressed that there was not and never had been a “sibling link” in their transport policy, but that all applications were assessed on an individual basis against the transport policy.

He said: “It would not be fair or equitable to charge ‘first’ or ‘only’ children to travel to school but allow siblings to use our services free of charge.

“We are sympathetic to the family’s situation and have contacted them to explain both our policy and the alternative options available in more detail, including our current concessionary schemes for children who are not entitled to free travel.

“We regret that the family are not entitled to further financial support with transport. However, we have a duty to ensure that our published policies are applied fairly and correctly to all Hertfordshire residents, as they have been in this case.”

Commercial director of Centrebus, Dave Shelley, said children aged 11 or older were only eligible for a cheaper rate of travel if they had a savercard, issued by HCC. He added: “I am surprised that this situation has arisen and continues to be a problem six weeks into the start of the term.”

The issue had, he confirmed, been investigated internally and the company had attempted to assist the customer by advising that she purchase the savercard.