Free bike plan for kids a 'disgrace'

A scheme to give young students free bikes instead of bus passes has been labelled 'disgraceful'.

Members of Northamptonshire County Council's cabinet yesterday backed plans to cut back the 719,000 a year which is currently spent on getting 16 to 19-year-old students to schools and colleges.

Instead of providing bus passes, the council will now fund only 50 per cent of the transport costs for students who are on low incomes, have learning disabilities or are disabled.

Of those, some will be offered the chance to take part in a scheme where the council gives them a free bike, bicycle lessons and a grant to maintain their bicycles.

But the scheme was condemned by opposition politicians at County Hall.

Former county councillor John Yates has been a long-time campaigner for free bus travel for students.

He told councillors: "It seems you've just taken on the Norman Tebbit approach of saying 'get on your bike'. But would you be prepared to cycle six miles every day on our county's dangerous roads, which have high accident rates? It's disgraceful."

The Conservative leaders of the county council have said the 30,000 bike scheme has been set up to promote students' independence.

But the leader of the opposition Labour group, Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood) echoed safety concerns.

He said: "To say to people get on your bike and cycle to school on some of our dangerous roads is ridiculous. After 12 months I would like to see a report to say how many children have actually come off their bikes."

Concerns were also raised that the cost of buying bus passes could be too high for some people and might prevent them from carrying on their studies.

But backing the plans, the council's cabinet member for transport, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Prebendal) said: "We're trying to get people to use alternative ways of moving around the county rather than just getting in the car all the time. We take into account the risks, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be working to promote a more healthy and active lifestyle for our young people."

The transport plan was approved by the council's cabinet.