30 August 2022
By Mary Bermingham
Lack of school bus seats are resulting in up to 15,000 children left without school transport as schools reopen this week
West Cork Independent TD Michael Collins today referred to the lack of bus places.
“The school transport chaos is resulting in our constituency offices being flooded with calls from parents whose children have been refused seats on school buses. As schools reopen, thousands of children across the country are in limbo – awaiting news of a bus seat confirmation or receiving a rejection of their seat application.”
“To much fanfare, earlier in the year, the government announced it was waiving school transportation fees for one year under measures to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis. However, the reality of this is that a record 15,000 children are being completely locked out of the scheme, despite many of whom previously held bus seats.”
“The government’s promise to cut the €500 annual school transport concessionary cost is meaningless to thousands of families with children being denied access to the service. These families, many of whom availed concessionary tickets last year, are now being abandoned at the last minute, due to another catastrophic governmental policy failure.”
“Instead of supporting these families during the current cost-of-living crisis, the government’s illogical policy increases costs for many; some families have reported to our offices that they may be left with the cost of arranging and paying for private transportation. Some cost estimates suggest families forced to pay up to €3,000 per child for the year or have parents drive their child to school. For the majority, such additional costs, even the driving option, are completely prohibitive.”
“Failure by the Minister, her Department and Bus Eireann, who operates the school transport scheme on behalf of the Department, to adequately forward plan, prepare and administer the bus operation ahead of school’s reopening is deplorable.”
“The Minister’s excuses, including those responsible, place blame on multiple factors, including a surge in demand and a lack of buses and drivers; these, however, are not credible. Forward planning should have foreseen such a scenario, especially when almost 115,000 applications were made prior to the July 29th closing date.”
“The impact of this mismanagement is particularly acute across rural areas, as thousands of parents are left in uncertainty at the eleventh hour. These parents have reported that they simply have zero options to organise alternative transport for their children.”
“Problems with the scheme’s eligibility occur yearly, but the disorder witnessed this year is far greater than before. As such, we believe the entire system must be overhauled, and the strict eligibility criteria should be completely axed, to provide all children free school transport.”
“Ultimately, the responsibility for this mess rests with the Minister for Education, Norma Foley. Thus, we are now calling on Minister Foley to personally intervene and establish an urgent action plan, to ensure all children who obtained concessionary tickets in previous years are offered school transport for this year. The system necessitates change, so that if a child gets a bus seat one year, they retain it.”
“The Minister and the Chief Executive of Bus Eireann must take full accountability for their combined failure to prepare and have adequate bus capacity available at the beginning of this school year. Hence, we are demanding both to immediately provide the required capacity, so that children are no longer denied a seat,” concluded Deputy Collins.
Students are eligible for transport at primary level where their home is 3.2km or more from their nearest national school they are attending — and not less than 4.8km for secondary school. Concessionary tickets were traditionally given to pupils who did not necessarily meet the criteria for the scheme — for example, those not attending the nearest school — where there was capacity on a bus route. Families that normally would pay an annual ticket charge will not be charged a fee for their school bus ticket for the 2022/2023 school year. However, the outcome of this policy change means that 15,000 children have had their applications rejected.