Kent County Council in re-think over plans to set cap of £350 on Freedom Pass use by children
Kent County Council has dropped its plans for a cap on journeys that can be made by children using the Freedom Pass in the face of widespread protests from parents.
In a major U-turn just a week before it sets the budget, the authority's Conservative administration says it no longer intends to limit the journeys that could be made to a £350 cap.
But there remains a sting in the tail for parents and families.
An Arriva bus. Library image
KCC says the cost of the pass will double to £200 and journeys will be limited to between 6am to 7pm from Monday to Friday.
Concessions will be available to those on free school meals and looked-after children, with the fee reduced to £100.
The pass will not be able to be used during August - the peak holiday time.
In another major change, the council says it will now reduce the cost of the post-16 pass to £400.
Thousands of parents have signed petitions calling for a re-think, with many claiming that they would be forced to pay hundreds of pounds for their children to travel to school.
"Many parents were telling us that it was going to cost them anything from £1,000 to £1,500 and would have to take their children to school by car. That is not what we wanted" - Cllr David Brazier
Cllr David Brazier (Con), the KCC cabinet member for transport, said the council had taken into account the views of the public and the changes would save £5m.
"Many parents were telling us that it was going to cost them anything from £1,000 to £1,500 and would have to take their children to school by car. That is not what we wanted," he said.
"What we have got is a better scheme than we did."
He added that in discussions with bus operators, some had expressed concerns about the smart card scheme and expected to lose money on routes.
"We did not want to be in a situation where they took out services because of a loss of revenue."
Opposition Ukip councilLor Mike Baldock welcomed the U-turn but said they would consider the changes carefully before deciding whether to back them.
He said: "I am pleased that the Conservative administration on KCC have been forced into this humiliating U-Turn by the combined opposition of all the other Parties on Kent County Council, not to mention the anger of several of their own back benchers.
"We will consider these proposals in detail and see what approach we will take next week in the Budget Meeting, as there remains a lot of concern for the 16-19 year olds, who Paul Carter seems to think will magically find the jobs that our current unemployed have been unable to find."
County Hall, Maidstone - the home of KCC
Labour group leader Cllr Gordon Cowan said: "These are more acceptable proposals but there's no doubt this is a U-turn and KCC has egg on its face.
"I am still concerned about the impact on less well-off families as the charge at £100 is still a lot to find."
- Click here for more news from across the county