As in most local authority areas, North Yorkshire County Council allows pupils who do not qualify for free transport to school to buy empty seats on the buses it has to provide for those who do, on a first-come, first-served basis.
Some 900 children across the county take advantage of this long-standing arrangement which, the Council points out, provides convenience for families as well as additional income to support the service.
However, it now faces a private legal challenge from a disability rights campaigner who is arguing that where the authority sells a spare seat on a school bus then the vehicle must be made wheelchair accessible.
As most buses operated by companies under contract to provide home to school transport tend to be from older fleets or otherwise used as tour coaches, they are not generally suitable for wheelchairs.
Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Access, said: “We, along with many other councils, have believed that home to school transport was exempt from the regulations. They were designed for commercial bus services and it cannot have been the intention of the law that simply selling one or two spare seats on home to school transport should mean buses then have to be accessible.”
Companies would face very significant costs if they had to secure different vehicles or adapt existing vehicles, he pointed out, and these costs would then be passed to the County Council.
At its meeting in early September, North Yorkshire will consider a range of proposals to address the challenge with recommendations to continue to transport children in spare seats who are not entitled to free transport and to stop charging them while the council seeks clarification from the Department for Transport (DfT) that the existing method is lawful.
Cllr Mackenzie said that the challenge could cost the Council over £300,000 every year in lost income and may ultimately result in significant disruption and inconvenience for 900 children and their families if they are no longer able to travel in the spare seats.
Last reviewed 10 September 2019