PARENTS have voiced their concerns about the reduction of 'privilege seats' on school buses from September.

Confirmed with the passing of the Isle of Wight Council's 2020/21 budget in February, the authority hope to save £321,000 by re-tendering the home-to-school transport contract, currently held by Southern Vectis, with fewer vehicles operating on routes.

Now, the council has announced the number of 'privilege seats' — spaces on a bus partially paid for by parents and carers whose children are not eligible for a free place — will be 'significantly' reduced and advised alternatives be found.

In an email sent to parents and carers, Martin Goff, head of school transport at the council, said the current contracted service has many surplus seats, compared to the number of children eligible for funded transport.

He said: "From September 2020, we will procure a service that best matches demand for the pupils eligible for local authority funded transport and, whenever possible, does not result in an excess of surplus seats.

"We anticipate the number of available spare seats on buses and coaches will reduce significantly from September 2020."

Read more: Fewer 'privilege seats' to be available on school buses says Isle of Wight Council

At the start of the current school year, families have paid £390 for the full year, or £195 for a morning or afternoon pass for a year, however the council said each spare seat costs the authority more than £1,000 a year.

Mr Goff said the authority was letting people know now, so they have time to make alternative arrangements.

Isle of Wight Green Party spokesperson Vix Lowthion has written to Mr Goff to outline her concerns and ask for further details, saying in some cases, families have no alternative.

Ms Lowthion said: “Privilege bus seats are far from an advantage or a luxury — for many Island families they are an essential.

"These cuts to school bus places will create significant problems for Islanders, penalise families living in our rural communities and will lead to increased congestion on our roads.

"Many parents are now very worried about how it will be possible to get their children to school in September. At this time of national crisis, this is an anxiety they could well do without."

One parent, Samantha-Jane Mitchell, explained the changes would leave her daughter having to travel from Freshwater Bay to Cowes every morning by public bus — potentially arriving 45 minutes late for the start of school even if she leaves their house just after 7am, which includes a 35 minute walk to the bus stop.

She said: "Her round trip to and from school each day on public buses would take four hours and 30 minutes on a good run.

"There are no secondary schools in the West Wight so our children have to travel in vehicles to school.

"Carisbrooke is our nearest secondary school and has been oversubscribed for the past two years so any children refused a place there have to be transported by the council to alternative schools anyway."

Working as freelancers, sometimes off the Island, Samantha and her husband are not in a position to drive their daughter to school — where she will be starting her final years of GCSEs in September, and said it would be difficult to transfer schools now.

Samantha said: "As a parent this is very worrying as there is no viable solution for us.

"This decision appears to be rather short-sighted — by removing this privilege seat option, parents will be forced to only apply for their nearest school knowing full well it is oversubscribed.

"In turn, the council will then allocate their child a place at another school where spaces are available.  At this point the council will be responsible for covering the full cost of transporting the child to the alternative school.

"In short, the IW Council will end up paying more for transporting the West Wight children to their schools."

In budget papers, the council does recognise its income will reduce as a result of selling fewer seats but said optimising the contracted vehicles to meet eligible child demand is the best route to savings.

The Isle of Wight Council has been asked how many seats are expected to be lost.