A bus company has been accused of “robbing” West Norfolk families by imposing large fare rises on children’s journeys to school.
An online campaign has been set up after the rises, which some parents claim have doubled the cost of their children’s travel, came to light at the beginning of the new term this week.
Stagecoach managers have insisted passengers were informed of the changes before the Easter break.
They also claim the measures will make fares across the network simpler and allow passengers to travel at weekends if they want to.
But many passengers have vowed to boycott the company altogether unless there is a change of policy.
North Wootton resident Arthur Lee, said: “In the old days people robbed Stagecoaches. Now they rob you.”
A Facebook campaign, Say No to Stagecoach Ticket Increase, has been set up by Melissa Ibbitson, from South Wootton, in protest at the changes.
Although the new fare structures came into force last week, the full effect of the measures has only become apparent this week as children returned to lessons after the Easter break.
Parent Moira Kirby, from South Wootton, said her 11-year-old daughter Ruby had previously purchased a Child Mega 28 monthly ticket, costing £17, in order to travel on the North Wootton Three route to attend the King Edward VII Academy.
However, she said that Ruby had been forced to buy a weekly ticket, costing £8.50, because the previous ticket had been discontinued.
Mrs Kirby said she and other parents were now considering car sharing to avoid the higher fares, adding: “I won’t pay £8.50 a week.”
“We could probably find the money but in another year, I’m going to have my boy there as well and it would be £68 a month to send them to school on a public bus.”
Other objectors have reported the cost of weekly tickets for travel to schools in Hunstanton, Terrington St Clement and West Walton from nearby areas soaring to as much as £18.
Among them is Sally Wright, whose grandchildren Tempany, 15, and Tanisha-Mae Parish, 12, both use Stagecoach buses to attend the Marshland High School in West Walton.
She said she had been shocked to hear the price of their weekly tickets had risen from £9.50 each to £18 when they returned home on Monday.
Although the overall price of five daily return tickets is much lower, £12, she described Stagecoach’s decision as “ridiculous.”
She also suggested it could even stop some parents from sending their children to the school of their choice.
She added: “They never said the fare was going up.”
Another passenger, Mazza Lawson, wrote that she was now taking an hour to walk to her work rather than pay for a monthly adult ticket, which she says has now risen from £26 to £38.
She said: “The fare for a month is practically a day’s wage. It’s outrageous.”
But managers have defended their decision to raise fares, insisting that, despite passengers’ anger, they still offer value for money.
Andy Campbell, managing director of the firm’s east division, said: “Passengers were informed of the price increases through notices on all buses prior to the Easter holidays.
“The increases have occurred as we move away from individual route tickets to a two-zone system for the region, which will offer passengers unlimited travel within that zone, weekends included. It will also simplify the fare network.
“Any decision to increase fares is not taken lightly. The price rise will allow us to invest more money within the area as we expand our existing fleet – we have already purchased five buses and are looking to buy a further 15 additional vehicles this year – and improve efficiency for passengers.
“Without this investment many services wouldn’t run as they wouldn’t be commercially viable.
“We remain committed to setting fares that are considered to be fair and an affordable level for passengers.
“An independent survey, over the last three years, has shown that Stagecoach offers the cheapest fares out of the four major bus operators in the UK.
“We still believe that, even with this increase, we still offer good value for money.”
But North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham today said the firm’s stance was unacceptable.
He said he had received a “significant number of representations” on the issue.
He added: “Whilst an inflation adjusted increase would have been perfectly acceptable, it is completely unacceptable to go for such sudden big increases – especially at a time when some of the key costs in the industry, such as fuel, have been falling sharply.
“I have been in touch with Stagecoach about this and I have requested an urgent explanation.”