Seven new dedicated school buses have started this week as Wokingham Borough Council works to ensure children are safe on their journey to school. A Department for Education grant of £145,000 will pay for the additional buses up until October half-term.
The council’s school transport teams have also re-timed some journeys and changed the policies around who is allow to board on some services to help with social distancing. The majority of these dedicated services are to separate students from different schools. This includes four additional services to help separate those travelling along the A329 to The Forest, The Emmbrook and The Holt schools.
Additional special educational needs and disabilities routes are also being run to SEND schools in order to allow for social distancing and attendance changes. Some of the additional buses are duplicates on existing routes so they become for school transport only, these include:
• 21 service
• 94 service
• 202 service (two additional vehicles)
• 244 service (two additional vehicles)
• 850 (afternoon return journey)
This week also saw the reintroduction of morning restrictions for concessionary bus pass holders. This means pass holders will only be able to use them after 9am on weekdays. This decision applies from 1 September and has been made to ease the number of people using the bus during the peak school travel hours and help buses operate under reduced capacity for social distancing.
The council will continue to monitor how the services are used over the next few weeks to tweak the times that they run and whether any additional services will need to be established to meet demand.
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, executive member for highways and transport, said: “These additional services are helping the council to get all pupils to school who live two miles or more away from where they attend school. We’re grateful to all residents who have adjusted their own transport to avoid the school travel times and make it easier to get all children to school on time and as safely as possible.”
The work to provide the transport services the borough needs to get students back to school is part of a wider effort by the council to support students and schools as they reopen this September.
Classroom bubbles and staggered start times have been introduced, in line with Public Health England guidance, to ensure it’s as safe as possible and contact is minimised at the school gates for the wider community. Schools will also be encouraging extra handwashing and sanitising as additional precautions.
Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services, said: “We continue to work with schools, staff, parents and pupils to enable schools to reopen safely, including ensuring the journey to and from school is safe. I hope those who have already returned are enjoying being reunited with friends and look forward to those who return in the coming days having the same experience.”
Reading Buses, who are partnering with the council on some of the services, will put a 9 on the front of the service number to show to passengers it is a dedicated school service, so the 19 will become the 919 for school travel. The council already transports more than 1,200 students to school every day on dedicated services on coaches, minibuses and other forms of transport across almost 250 different services.