SURREY County Council has claimed hiring a 52-seat coach to transport five children to Chandler C of E Junior School in Witley represents “value for money” for Surrey taxpayers.

Defending itself from criticism by parents denied a space on the coach for their children because of 20-year-old government legislation, the council said exemptions are only allowed where no more than 20 per cent of the vehicle capacity is fare paying.

It’s because the coach is not wheelchair accessible – and government red tape states any public coach over 22-seats used for a scheduled service must be accessible to all, otherwise it restricts the number of seats that can be made available.

Erika Keat, who as a result is driving her eight-year-old son to school every day, said: “There are at least 30 more cars on the road because the bus isn’t full.

“The Chandler School is down a tiny cul-de-sac and the parking is a nightmare.

“We need to look after our planet, use the car less – not add an empty coach and 30 more cars on the road. We will not be able to remain a one car family at this rate as I now need the car every day.

“Meanwhile, I drive past the bus every day on my way to and back from school.”

Mrs Keat is about 200 yards short of living three miles away from the school – which would have meant her child qualified.

A council spokesperson said: “This particular coach route serves two schools back to back and it would be more expensive to provide a smaller vehicle just for the eligible Chandler pupils, than carrying on using the larger vehicle for both schools.

“As we are using public funds, we have to demonstrate value for money for our members and for Surrey residents.”

The DfT said by 2020, 99 per cent of vehicles providing local services were compliant with the accessibility rules first introduced two decades ago, and it was “disappointing” that similar levels were yet to be achieved in the home-to-school sector.

A DfT spokesperson said: “Safe and convenient home-to-school transport plays a vital role for many families, which is why we continue to offer exemptions while local authorities work to source vehicles which comply with these 20-year-old regulations.

“We welcome the support of the bus and coach industry, who are working with us to find a longer-term solution which supports a fully inclusive transport system.”

Mrs Keat said the council knew the exemption was time-limited and something should have been done in time to avoid a “stressful” situation.

“There has to be a better answer then a 52-seater bus having five children on it,” she said. “No one is benefiting from this, especially not the environment.”

Coach company Edward Thomas & Son did not respond when asked if they had applied for an exemption.

The most recent exemption offered by the DfT was made in July, lasting until March 2022.