A SWITCH of vehicle on a school bus route was made just two days before pupils were due to return, amid claims the previous plan for the route had been ruled unsafe.

Parents reacted with anger after East Lothian Council carried out a route check on the Gifford to Haddington run on Monday and decided the bus was too big to travel the country lanes.

The late check came after the council changed bus operators at the end of last term, replacing Prentice Coaches after 21 years.

But while some families said they had been told the route was not considered safe for the 60-seater bus to use, the council insisted the decision had nothing to do with safety.

Instead, it said a decision to use a smaller 16-seat minibus for part of the route was taken for “ease of movement” around the rural roads.

A spokesperson said: “In transitioning the service to a new provider, the familiarisation route check undertaken enabled route timings and vehicle suitability to be assessed before children returned to school; this led to the decision to operate a smaller vehicle for ease of movement round this rural route.

“The route is and always has been a safe route.”

There was confusion over the last-minute changes as parents tried to find out if their children were confirmed for the minibus ahead of the schools returning on Wednesday.

The changes to the traditional home school route which takes pupils to Knox Academy mean a 16-seater vehicle was sent to collect children in rural areas and take them to meet the larger bus in Gifford before heading to Haddington.

New contracts were awarded to other operators but parents this week took to social media to vent frustration, with claims some did not know when and where the new buses would be running and pupils were still waiting to be issued the correct bus passes.

One mother said that her daughter, who is starting first year at secondary school, had been sent an over-60s bus pass instead of one for school.

Others said that their children had dropped off the lists given to the new operators or been put on the wrong ones.

But Monday’s check on the 158 Gifford to Haddington route sparked the biggest outcry.

Parents of children expecting to be picked up by the new bus were urged to contact the new operators to ensure they were on the list amid claims that they had not been given the correct information.

Questions were being asked on social media about why the bus route was not checked earlier.

One parent said: “The likelihood is that some children will not be collected for school.”

Another said: “What a nightmare for children and parents.”

 A council spokesperson said that following a drive through of the 158 route, it was agreed the operator would use a “16-seat capacity bus which would be more suited to the narrow rural routes”.

They said: “Young people will transfer from this vehicle to the larger Knox Academy bus in central Gifford. This is standard, legal practice. Safety is our number one priority when arranging home to school transport.”

The spokesperson added: “We are working with colleagues across the council and in schools to ensure that all pupils who have been issued with a bus pass are on the transport providers’ lists and to improve access to the school transport timetables.

“We recognise that this may have caused uncertainty for parents, carers and pupils.

“Our staff and the transport providers will continue to work closely together to manage the transition to these new arrangements.”

Councillor Craig Hoy, ward member, said: “I was relieved to get clear reassurance from council staff on the issues of vehicle safety and the safety of children travelling from Gifford and outlying areas to Knox Academy.

“It’s clear that there were communications problems which impacted parents and pupils. Managing this sort of process is never easy, but the council and operators should try to learn from this experience before any future changes to bus operators or routes.”