Parents urged to have say on proposed school transport changes
Parents of special needs children have been urged to have their say on proposed changes to transport services which could impact on hundreds of families.
Wolverhampton Council has put forward a number of options in order to save money on special needs transport.
Bosses have defended the policy and say many children want to be given the chance to travel more independently.
A 12-week consultation is due to launch in September and any changes would likely come into force 12 months later. Council chiefs say they want to hear from as many parents as possible, as their views will help shape any decision.
Proposed changes include reducing pick-up and drop-off points to a single destination and introducing a fixed charge fee for people of sixth-form age.
The council's education chief Michael Hardacre insisted feedback had shown many children wanted more freedom over how they travel to school.
When asked if he feared the proposals could present a picture of a mean council not wanting to pay for transport for some of the most vulnerable children, he said that was not the case.
Councillor Hardacre said any changes would only be made with the agreement of parents and safety would be a top consideration.
He also insisted if results of the consultation showed parents were against change, he would fight for more money to try and maintain provision.
The council provides travel for around 750 pupils, the majority of whom have special educational needs or disabilities, along with 70 vulnerable adults. Nearly all of these are transported by coach, minibus or taxi.
Councillor Hardacre said: "From the pre-consultation we have had people saying yes I would like my child to be independent.
"Sometimes it is very easy to underestimate what people can actually do.
"It is a 12-week consultation we want the widest possible return on. Tell us, we want to know
"None of this we want to be pushing without a safety net.
"We would prefer to provide transport for those who need it. But we want to do it from a single address. We are aware there are young people who might not be at the same address all week. We will be looking at that to provide a sensible approach.
"There are also a number who are educated a significant distance outside the local authority. If they are at a school in Wolverhampton then we would say we will pay your travel costs but if you are insisting on going to 'x' then we will say no.
"We will try to do this all as sensibly and sensitively as possible."
A bullish Councillor Hardacre conceded the council needed to save money on school transport but added: "Over the next two to three years SEN (special educational needs) will go up in cost by 13 per cent but if it wasn't to happen I would be fighting for that 13 per cent in the budget.
"I'm not having young people in Wolverhampton short-changed because of no money."