SCORES of children are set to face major disruption following the decision to axe three school bus services halfway through the academic year.
About 130 families at Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville will be forced to seek alternative transport when the 640 service through Clanfield and Horndean, and the 641/642 dedicated route through Warblington, Southleigh and West Leigh cease to operate from February 10.
The cancellation by First Hampshire and Dorset Ltd, a subsidiary company of FirstGroup, has infuriated head Matt Quinn who says it will cause havoc to people’s lives and the environment – and could deter youngsters from attending his school in future.
He said: ‘This announcement was unexpected, without prior consultation and is potentially devastating for students who use these services. For parents, dedicated school transport is the safest way for children to get to school, especially in winter when it gets dark early.
‘I am dismayed the company would remove a school service, and do so midway through an academic year, which leaves parents in an untenable situation.
‘In the short term parents will cobble together some sort of solution, like jumping into cars which isn’t great for the environment. But in the longer term, parents will start to question whether it is feasible to travel to Oaklands.’
A compromise has been reached to replace the 640 service – with an alternative dedicated service leaving Oakalnds and stopping at the London Road junction in Cowplain. However, after that students will need to make their own way home.
It is the end of the 641/642 night and day route that will have the most drastic impact, leaving students to take public routes around West Leigh and Havant and then relying on irregular services to Warblington and Emsworth.
Mr Oakes, who is investigating the possibility of an ‘in house’ bus service, said: ‘FirstGroup had an operating profit of £190m last year, but they say the routes are no longer profitable. This commercial decision will have a huge knock-on effect.’
A FirstGroup company spokeswoman confirmed the decision was made due to the route continuing to make ‘significant losses’.
She added: ‘We have done what we can to mitigate the impact of these changes, rerouting some of our other commercial services to enable some of the students to travel to and from school using them instead. Unfortunately there are two areas – West Leigh and North Emsworth – which we are unable to serve due to a lack of available resources.’
This latest blow to Oaklands follows Hampshire’s decision to scrap transport subsidies to religious schools.