First Group's yellow buses just the ticket

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The Independent Online

First, the UK bus and rail group, is planning to double the number of US-style yellow school buses in operation in the UK following the runaway success of initial trials.

First, the UK bus and rail group, is planning to double the number of US-style yellow school buses in operation in the UK following the runaway success of initial trials.

The company, the second biggest operator of school bus services in the US, has also asked the Government for tax breaks to reduce the costs of importing yellow buses from America. If the concept proves popular enough then First will consider bringing in the school buses in kit form for assembly here or having them manufactured in the UK.

Three local authorities – Runnymede in Surrey, Halifax in West Yorkshire and Wrexham in Wales – are experimenting with yellow school buses, driven by the parents of local school children. At present there are 20 buses in operation but First intends to increase this to 40 by extending the trials to other local authority areas.

First says that anecdotal evidence from the initial trials, which began in the spring, show that the use of yellow school buses reduces truancy and absenteeism and improves the performance of pupils.

At present the buses are being specially built to meet European design and safety standards at the Bluebird plant in Georgia, which is owned by the UK bus builder Henleys.

The buses cost about £35,000 in the US but by the time they have been adapted and imported into the UK, the cost rises to £85,000. First has approached the Department for Education and Skills to explore whether the 16 per cent import duty it has to pay can be waived.

The school run is estimated to be responsible for 20 per cent of morning rush-hour traffic so replacing private cars with school buses could have a huge impact on traffic congestion and levels of air pollution.

Moir Lockhead, the chief executive of First, said that the company had been overwhelmed by interest from other local authorities since the pilot scheme began. In the US, more than half all pupils under 12 travel to school by bus. In the UK the figure is 7 per cent.

First, which publishes half-year results on 6 November, is thought to have bucked the trend by increasing UK rail passenger numbers across its three franchises by 4 per cent, while rivals such as National Express and Stagecoach have been reporting flat or falling volumes.

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