Funding provided by the Department for Education (DfE) for additional dedicated home-to-school transport services in England will be extended to the end of the autumn term, it has been confirmed.

The news was contained in a letter sent to bus and light rail operators on 2 October by Department for Transport (DfT) Director, Local Transport Steven Fidler. The money is to help to remove children and students from public transport while vehicle capacities on those services remain restricted.

Contingency required alongside additional home-to-school funding

Mr Fidler has also encouraged operators to prepare a contingency plan to allow services to continue should operational challenges develop over the winter. That preparation should include examining the scope to source alternative vehicles and drivers, he says.

The allocation of DfE funding for additional dedicated home-to-school transport in the second half of the autumn term has not yet been published. Mr Fidler says that it “is possible that the amount distributed to a local transport authority (LTA) will change depending on local need.” For the first half of the term, £44m was allocated to 79 LTAs. Transport for London accounted for £5.879m, or 13.4%, of that total.

Mr Fidler adds that provision of public transport and home-to-school services is one of the government’s “top priorities for the winter period.” That is the reason for his request that operators and LTAs consider forming contingency plans to ensure that those services continue to run.

“During the winter, we encourage operators and LTAs to specifically work together on the use of alternative available vehicles and drivers on all transport modes, including coaches, buses, light rail, taxis and private hire vehicles. These additional vehicles could be contingency support for existing [home-to-school] and public transport routes that are already near to, or at, full capacity.”

Earlier in the pandemic, a DfT spokesperson told routeone that no dispensation from PSVAR would apply to coaches used to provide additional capacity on local bus or home-to-school services that are in scope of the Regulations.

Discussions continue to further understand potential challenges

DfT says it is talking to LAs, DfE and “a selection of operators” over coming weeks to further understand the challenges that may face public and home-to-school transport over the winter. The outcome of those discussions “will be fed into cross-departmental discussions on wider coronavirus COVID-19 policy.”