Subsidised transport for pupils who live too close to their school to get free transport could be scrapped in East Ayrshire - amid spiralling costs and the introduction of the Scottish Government’s free bus travel for young people.

Currently, secondary school pupils who live between 1.5 and three miles from their school can get a discounted fare, paying £1.40 a day.

The service cost East Ayrshire Council (EAC) £462,000 this year - part of a £3.6m school transport budget that is projected to be almost £700k overspent.

The review is expected to promote public transport and active travel, such as cycling.

EAC is the only authority in Scotland to operate a subsidised programme on top of its free transport service.

The scheme was set up as a compromise in 2012/13, after East Ayrshire Council followed a number of other authorities in extending the distance for pupils to be eligible for free transport.

The financial pressure on school transport has been increasing for a number of years, with an overspend of £653,000 projected for this financial year.

The subsidised transport scheme accounts for £462k of the £4.3m school transport budget.

Kevin Braidwood, head of Ayrshire Roads Alliance, told EAC’s cabinet: “Changes to school catchments since 2013/14 has led to an increase in pupils eligible to access subsidised transport.”

He said that the number of pupils accessing the subsidised service had been on the rise until this school year, when it dropped by around a third.

The majority of pupils in receipt of subsidised transport are based in Kilmarnock and attend the Grange Academy, St Joseph’s Academy and the William McIlvanney Campus.

All other pupils in receipt of subsidised transport attend Robert Burns Academy in Cumnock.

Mr Braidwood also pointed out that there would be even greater pressure placed on the service in the near future. New regulations mean that the cost of new school transport contracts are expected to result in much higher costs.

In his report, Mr Braidwood recommends the removal of the subsidised service.

He said that the council should look to support the use of public transport, with pupils utilising their free travel entitlement, with local bus services within a ‘reasonable walking distance’ for pupils.

A number of families had indicated they would no longer be using the service because of the introduction of the free bus pass.

If the reduction in income is not matched by a reduction in the number of buses required, it could cost the council even more.

The proposals also seek to promote active travel routes, including Kilmarnock’s 'infinity loop' project.

Mr Braidwood also acknowledged the issues around rural public transport and suggests an alternative delivery model bring together public services with school runs.

Council leader Douglas Reid said it was important to ensure a ‘real and meaningful’ consultation with parents and pupils, while taking into account the limited resources available.

“There are some really good aspects to this paper,” he said.

“But I think it is important that we fully engage with the public in a real and meaningful way.

“It is quite an emotive subject as there is nothing more precious than our children.”

He pointed out the positive impact that the infinity loop could have on active travel to school, while acknowledging potential issues.

He said: “We have got to make sure we’ve got safe crossings. There are also issues with bus stations, Kilmarnock in particular.

“There is a huge convergence of pupils there and I think we need to have some reassurance on that model before we go out to consultation.

“There are big issues around the lack of frequency [of buses] in some rural areas.”

The report was continued, with officers asked to develop more detail around the proposals prior to consultation.