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Free bus pass rules are branded ‘unfair’
Pauline Preece, front left, with parents and their children who are angry about changes to free bus passes which have been issued to some students at Wallingford School but not to others
JUST 150 metres separate two families from the right to free travel to school for their children.
Until this summer, the Preeces and the McBains were told they were both entitled to free bus passes to Wallingford School.
Nicola McBain, of 27 Sunnyside in Benson, has received a letter from education bosses confirming her son Aston is still eligible for free school transport.
But just down the road at 11 Sunnyside, Pauline Preece and her two sons have been told they will no longer be eligible for free bus travel after March, despite having had it for more than three years. Now if they want to go to school they will have to pay £240 a year.
The problem has emerged after changes in national guidelines.
Oxford County Council has had to re-examine the criteria upon which it decides which families qualify and which don’t.
Reassessed school routes include those between Benson and Wallingford, Cholsey and Wallingford, and Drayton and Abingdon.
Free travel will now only be provided where the home-to-school distance is more than three miles, or there is no safe walking route if under three miles.
That means families within the three miles who used to qualify for passes, who use a route now deemed “safe”, will no longer qualify.
But their neighbours who are just outside the three-mile zone, are still entitled to them.
Pupils from Benson are now expected to cross the busy A4074, where the speed limit has been cut from 50mph to 40mph, while pupils from Cholsey would have to walk along Wallingford Road.
Both families have condemned the situation as “unfair”, as both catch the same bus.
Ms Preece, 37, who works with adults with learning difficulties, has two sons who go to Wallingford School, Nathan, 14, and Sam, 15.
The boys have had paid-for travel since they started at Wallingford School.
Ms Preece said: “I find it hard to understand that two families in the same street are being treated in a different way.
“I don’t think it’s safe for children from the village to cross the A4074 and I will be appealing.”
Sam added: “I don’t want to walk to school, it’s too dangerous and too far.”
Mrs McBain, 36, a care assistant, said: “I think it’s unfair that Aston has got a pass when Pauline’s sons have not. Surely people in the same street should be treated the same.”
County council spokesman Owen Morton said: “Distance is the issue, with one family just inside the three-mile distance and one just outside. “The distances are all calculated using digitised mapping from the Ordnance Survey. “The Road Safety Association reissued guidelines earlier this year. “The walking routes from Cholsey and Benson to Wallingford School were recently reviewed, according to national guidelines and judged to be safe and appropriate.
“This means that a number of children who received free travel last year, despite living within three miles of the school, are no longer eligible for a free bus pass.
“It is quite possible for two children living close by or even in the same street to fall either side of the three-mile threshold, and in a small number of cases this has indeed proved to be the case.
“While that will undoubtedly be frustrating for some families, this is the way the regulations are applied nationally, and Oxfordshire is no different in this respect.”