SCHOOL transport is in crisis with children forced on to "demonstrably dangerous" buses, a committee of MPs warned yesterday.
A damning report by the Commons Transport Committee condemned the use of the "oldest buses on the road" to take youngsters to and from the school gate.
And it demanded minimum standards to stop local education authorities simply handing out contracts to the private bus companies offering the cheapest price.
The report echoes evidence given to the MPs last month by a Cheshire County Council transport officer, who admitted he "loses sleep" over the risk of accidents to children.
Garth Goddard, told the committee Cheshire 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 four American-style yellow buses, he said.
A recent inspection of 11 buses at one school in mid-Cheshire had led to no fewer than ten being taken off the road because they were unsafe.
Referring directly to Mr Goddard's evidence, the MPs concluded: "The current system produces some school buses which are demonstrably dangerous. This should not be allowed.
They added: "Old buses cannot be, and so do not have to be, provided with seat belts. It is unacceptable for school children to be forced to use the oldest buses on the road."
The MPs also called on the government to offer incentives to LEAs to put escorts on school buses to make the journey safer and pleasanter.
They said it was impossible for the driver to also supervise the children, which made many parents believe it was better to drive their child to school instead.
The government plans to allow up to 20 education authorities to try out new ideas for school transport, including charging richer parents for journeys.
But the committee said this leisurely approach failed to recognise the urgency of the crisis and called for the trials to be completed by 2008, rather than 2011.
More and more children were being driven to school, clogging up the roads at peak times, when as many as 20pc of vehicles were on the 'school run'.
The Department for Transport was criticised for leaving it up to LEAs to come up with new ideas, rather than putting forward more radical solutions.
The existing bus regulation rules also restricted the ability of local authorities to link school buses with other forms of public transport, the report said.
It concluded: "School transport is in crisis. The school run causes massive congestion and local authorities are spending a great deal of money to provide a service which is frequently inadequate."