Parents in North Yorkshire face losing their entitlement to free, door-to-door school transport from September, under council proposals to make the service “fair, consistent and more efficient”.
The county, the largest in England, spends more than a third of its total education budget – some £24.1m a year – on taking children to and from their homes.
The closure of several small primaries in rural villages has meant that some children are travelling further to their classrooms, contributing to the cost.
At present, families are automatically offered free transport from age five, often from their front door or farm. But the county council wants to limit the service to “collection points” where pupils can be picked up and dropped off, and to require parents to complete an application form for the service.
The council says the collection points would be “safe areas pupils could walk to, such as existing bus stops”. Door-to-door transport will be available only to children with medical or special educational needs.
However, the council says it will extend the transport scheme to under-fives in their first year at school, a practice already adopted by neighbouring authorities.
A spokesman said: “The current system of home to school transport is complex and includes arrangements between the council and individual families which have been adopted over the years but which are no longer sustainable.”
About 20,000 families will be affected by the changes, which are the subject of a proposed consultation before an introduction planned for the beginning of the next school year.
Patrick Mulligan, the council’s executive member for education, said its service was “above the statutory minimum”.
He said: “We’re a rural county and don’t have the public transport links some other areas do. We recognise the difficulties this presents across North Yorkshire.
“But we need to address some of the anomalies in the system over what we can and can’t provide and to make sure what we offer is consistent and fair to everyone.”
Coun Mulligan added: “There’s no duty for us to provide transport for post-16 education, but we are proposing to continue to provide discretionary transport to students in this age bracket.
“We’re looking to protect transport from home to school for those who need it the most and for those who are entitled to it.”
Under the proposals, pupils will be handed only a single transport pass, ending the system which allows children to travel to relatives’ homes on certain days. Families will also face a £30 fee if their pass needs replacing.
The changes will not apply to pupils under eight who already attend school.