PLEASE NOTE: This article has been superseded, following pressure from parents leading to a further change of mind by KCC. You will find the new article here.
Currently KCC operates a Freedom Pass for young people 11-16 costing £100, which offers free bus transport throughout the county any number of times, at all times of day. Introduced in 2007, this is unique outside London and has been greatly valued by young people. In Medway, travel support for young people is limited to half the adult fare.
It is an addition to the provision for free school transport for children up to Year 11 to their nearest appropriate school for transport purposes if they live more than three miles away (for over 8 year olds); or two miles away (for under 8 year olds). The “for transport purposes” term means that free transport to grammar schools will only be offered if it is the nearest mainstream school of any type. For details go to free transport. (In passing what if free school transport is only available to the nearest Free School, perhaps one with a strange religious philosophy?).
However, the Council is under extreme pressure to save money, and so has now agreed to change in principle to a much reduced scheme for the Freedom Pass from September 2014 – however one that is still more generous than in many parts of the country. Further, following the third successful “e-petition” to the County Council, a version of the scheme is proposed for over sixteen year olds, who currently only receive a travel pass costing £520 that provides a small overall subsidy for those travelling on a regular basis
At the relevant Committee meeting it was agreed to ask the Cabinet to replace the current scheme with one that uses a stored value smartcard providing £350 worth of travel for 11-16 year olds and £250 for 16-19 year olds, with both at a cost of £100.
As now, a charge will not be made for Young Carers and Looked After Children. Passes will be granted only to those in education or training, including apprentices.
Clearly, this comes nowhere near the spread of the current Freedom Pass, and will not even cover the cost of getting to school and back for many children, who don't attend the nearest school to them, including many grammar school children. However, it is still a support in an area of life where KCC is not required to provide it and, although there have been some hysterical responses to the withdrawal of the unlimited Travel Pass, given the financial pressures on the KCC it remains pleasing that they have been able to keep some elements of the original concept.
Of course, for children who are awarded free school transport, it remains a bonus towards the cost of travel for other reasons and at other times.