Welsh Assembly Government Transport Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, said the Learner Travel Measure would expand access to free school transport for primary school children, improve safety and provide clarity over the provision of free school transport in Wales. It will also help local authorities in making and managing learner travel arrangements in their areas.
The Measure was passed by the Assembly and will now be submitted for Royal Approval.
It is intended that the main provisions of the Measure will take effect from September 2009, at the start of that academic year.
Mr Jones said:
This Measure is an important step in meeting our One Wales to pursue legislation on improved school transport.
We believe travel should not be a barrier to children and young people participating in education. Efficient and effective transportation can improve access to education and reduce road congestion. The Measure will provide clarity on what applies to Wales in this area. We will no longer have to react to learner transport changes in England and will be able to create a learner travel system suitable for Wales.
The measure will ensure all primary school pupils will be eligible for free travel - if they live two miles or further from the nearest suitable school. Under current legislation pupils under the age of eight can claim free transport if they live two miles away or further from the nearest suitable school and this rises to three miles for those aged eight or over.
The current distance threshold for secondary school pupils, to receive free transport, remains as three or more miles
Mr Jones explained the need for an all-Wales code for behaviour whilst travelling to school or other place of learning.
Although several local authorities in Wales already have codes of conduct in place to cover learner travel behaviour our consultation showed there were concerns over variations from one area to another.
I see a need for consistency across Wales and for the behaviour code to apply to all journeys connected with learning and regardless of whether the learner’s travel is funded by the local authority.
Whilst the Measure cannot address issues to do with bus regulation such as banning double deck buses and introducing compulsory seat belts, Mr Jones has issued guidelines to this effect and has re-iterated that he is determined to seek powers from Westminster to implement this in Wales. Preliminary discussions with the UK Government are underway.
This Measure cannot deal with these issues as they are not within the legislative competence of the Assembly. However, I will be seeking more delegated powers in this area. In the meantime, we have issued new guidance to local authorities to encourage the use of seat belts, to carry out checks on drivers and to consider the use of CCTV and escorts on learner travel. The guidance also discourages the use of the three for two seating concession and of double deck buses for travel to and from school.
The Measure also places a duty on local authorities to promote access to Welsh Medium Education and the Minister has reiterated that he will use his power of direction in order to implement this in circumstances where it is considered that local authorities are not carrying out this duty.
30 September 2008