Dear Deputy Naughten,
Further to your representations in respect of the school transport scheme.
As you are aware School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. The school transport scheme is carrying more than 98,000 to children to primary and post-primary schools each day with an additional 14,500 children travelling on the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs.
The Department has been engaging intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year. The Department has also been engaging with Bus Éireann on the logistics involved with the rolling implementation of measures on post-primary services as required to provide physical distancing, in line with those required on public transport, aligned to the public health advice received shortly before schools reopened which advised that the post-primary scheme should run at 50% capacity. The implementation of 50% capacity has been put in place where possible over the last number of weeks, while Bus Éireann has been carrying out a detailed analysis of the resources required to fully implement the advice on all routes. Over the coming weeks, Bus Eireann will be implementing 50% capacity on a rolling basis as soon as it is possible to do so on each individual route.
Bus Éireann and the Department of Education and Skills have supported all bus contractors to put in place measures to support infection prevention and control on the buses. The Department has also issued detailed information and guidance to parents and children on the operation of school transport services for the 2020/2021 school year. Measures include all post-primary students wearing masks, all bus drivers and bus escorts receiving PPE where necessary, as well as funding to support additional cleaning and hygiene measures, including the provision of sanitiser on all buses. Seating plans with pre-assigned seating are in place on all routes, with children sitting next to their siblings or classmates where possible. This reduces the interaction of children on the buses with those outside of their family, class or school.
Government has agreed to provide the necessary funding to ensure that full implementation of the public health recommendation of running buses for post-primary children is achieved as quickly as possible on the post-primary scheme and on the special educational needs scheme for post-primary children. As well as additional funding, significant numbers of additional vehicles, drivers and bus escorts will be required. Bus Éireann is implementing different means of providing extra capacity with existing operators, including upgrading vehicles, additional runs or additional vehicles being provided. Where additional services will need to be procured, Bus Éireann has put in place a framework of operators that are willing to provide additional services where required.
An analysis has been conducted to determine what is required to fully implement all post-primary school services to operate at 50% capacity. The estimated full year cost to operate all services at 50% capacity is between €87m and €135m with an estimated requirement for an additional 1,600 drivers and vehicles and 650 additional School Bus Escorts.
Further detailed planning is being done through the local offices on a route by route basis to plan appropriate measures to provide the additional capacity required. As the additional capacity is rolled out, where spare capacity is created, further tickets will be allocated to those children eligible for the scheme who have paid late and for other applicants seeking concessionary tickets.
I would be grateful if you could accept this update as a response to your correspondence to this Department. I would also be grateful if you could provide this information to parents and schools who raise school transport issues directly.
Minister for Education