THE man in charge of Cheshire's school buses - many of which date back to the 1970s - has confessed he "loses sleep" over the risk of accidents to children.
Greg Yates, the county council's transport co-ordinator, told MPs the county council was forced to order "quite ancient" buses, because it could not afford modern vehicles.
They were not fitted with seatbelts and the risk of fire was higher than in Cheshire's small fleet of just four American-style yellow buses.
A recent inspection of 11 buses at one school in mid-Cheshire had led to no fewer than 10 being taken off the road because they were unsafe.
Mr Yates was giving evidence to the Commons Transport Committee, which is carrying out an investigation into a proposed shake-up of school transport.
The committee heard the county council's bill was rocketing by £1m a year above inflation as a small number of private contractors pushed up their bills.
The cost of school transport had risen by 26% last year alone - way ahead of any increase in government funding to local authorities.
As a result, Mr Yates said, many of the buses it tendered were more than 25 years old, when the council would prefer a limit of fewer than 15 years.
Mr Yates told MPs: "I lose sleep over the large number of schoolchildren travelling around the county in quite ancient buses. The quality of the vehicles we provide needs to be addressed.
"Newer vehicles would provide a safer and more reliable form of transport and would spin off into better behaviour by the pupils.
"There are some operators - not necessarily the big operators - that are supposed to meet the required standard but, on inspection, they are found to be wanting. That's a very worrying situation."
Mr Yates said three children were sometimes forced to squeeze on to two seats.
A further advantage of the yellow buses, apart from the seatbelts, was that they boasted a radio, which was a useful incentive to good behaviour.
Mr Yates said: "If the children are good, they can listen to Radio One. If they are bad, they get Radio Four."
The Government plans to allow up to 20 education authorities to try out new ideas for school transport, including charging richer parents for journeys.