Local TD Denis Naughten has received a Dáil reply from Minister Norma Foley TD indicating that Bus Eireann will issue more tickets to school children “as extra buses and drivers are sourced”.
“I have received an unprecedented level of complaints from parents in relation to school transport and, as a result, I sought clarification from the Education Minister on what is happening. She has now responded by stating that ‘Bus Éireann will continue to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as extra buses and drivers are sourced and become available to provide transport for the higher numbers qualifying for the service’,” stated Denis Naughten.
“But disappointingly the Minister is not guaranteeing that children and their siblings who had a bus service last year will get a service this year, as we now face into the third school week of the new term.
“I have a number of examples of where parents have been using the bus service for years and are now forced to drive up to 100km per day to transport their children to school, because the Minister did not fully think through her measures to help reduce the costs on families.
“It seems the Minister has forgotten that the core objective behind the school transport scheme is to bring children from rural areas to school, but in some instances the only ones who have benefited from the Government announcement are children in towns.
“While I welcome and support the principle behind the Government move to ease the burden on all families, the lack of proper planning has caused chaos and left children who had a bus service up to this year, on the side of the road.
“This is just not good enough and the Minister must take responsibility for this mistake by ensuring that additional buses are provided to take children to school.”
Denis Naughten pointed out: “In many instances a school bus can be sourced but the problem is getting drivers. This I believe can be resolved by Bus Eireann lifting its internal ban on drivers over the age of 70.
“It is crazy to think that drivers over 70 can drive private buses from one city to another all day but Bus Eireann will not allow them to use the same bus to bring children to and from school.
“Along with my independent colleagues across the country, we have tabled a motion in Dáil Éireann calling for specific steps to be taken by Government to ensure that all school children have access to a bus service as they did in every year up to now,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Dáil reply and proposed Dáil motion:
For Written Answer on : 08/09/2022
Question Number(s): 1037,1029 Question Reference(s): 44183/22, 44172/22
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D., Catherine Connolly T.D.
* To ask the Minister for Education the steps that she is taking to address a matter in which concessionary school transport pupils have had their service withdrawn due to an oversubscription of eligible pupils due to the premature Government announcement of the removal of school bus charges; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that some families have been availing of these concessionary services for over a decade until the withdrawal of services in August 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Denis Naughten T.D.
For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 8 September, 2022.
* To ask the Minister for Education her plans to urgently increase capacity on the school transport scheme given the increase in demand for the 2022/2023 academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
– Catherine Connolly T.D.
For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 8 September, 2022.
School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the last school year over 121,400 children, including over 15,500 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €289m in 2021.
The purpose of my Department’s School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.
In July 2022, Government announced funding for the waiving of school transport scheme fees for the coming school year as part of a wider package of cost of living measures.
Ticket registration for the 2022/23 school year closed on 29 July by which time almost 130,000 applications/registrations were received for mainstream school transport. This figure includes 44,299 new applications as well as roll-overs from the previous school year.
As of 1st September 2022, 121,000 tickets for the 2022/2023 school year have been issued to applicants for the new school year. This is a significant increase on the number on tickets issued in the 2021/2022 school year. Additional transport and drivers have been secured to cater for this increased demand for services.
Bus Éireann will continue to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as extra buses and drivers are sourced and become available to provide transport for the higher numbers qualifying for the service. However, regrettably the unprecedented numbers of new applications for the upcoming school year, has led to some delays in issuing tickets.
The normal eligibility criteria of the scheme still apply.
Pupils at primary level are eligible where they live no less than 3.2 kilometres from and are attending their nearest primary school.
At post-primary level students who live no less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest post primary school/education centre are deemed eligible.
All children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application process on time and who confirmed to Bus Éireann that they require a ticket by the 29th July 2022 will be accommodated on school transport services for the 2022/23 school year where such services are in operation.
In addition, pending completion of the outcome of the full review of the School Transport Scheme, Temporary Alleviation Measures at post-primary level be continued for the 2022/2023 school year. Under these measures, which were initially introduced in 2019, transport will provided for post-primary pupils who are eligible for transport to their nearest school and are attending their second nearest school and who applied by the 29th April and registered for a ticket by the 29th July.
Any pupils/students who do not meet these criteria are deemed not eligible, or otherwise known as concessionary, applicants and are allocated a ticket based on the availability of a seat on when all eligible children have been catered for.
Because of the nature of concessionary transport for non-eligible pupils/students and the priority of providing places for eligible ticket holders, there may be an excess of demand over supply for concessionary places, in these cases Bus Éireann will allocate tickets for spare seats using an agreed selection process.
Bus Éireann is continuing to work through remaining applications and families will be contacted as further information is available.
Motion tabled before Dáil Éireann re School Transport
That Dáil Éireann:
– the purpose of the School Transport Scheme is to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school;
– children are eligible for transport at primary level where they reside not less than 3.2 kms from, and are attending, their nearest national school, and at post primary level where they reside not less than 4.8 kms from, and are attending, their nearest post primary school/education centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language;
– the school transport scheme is in many instances is the only publicly funded daily transport service in many rural areas;
– school transport is a vital service to families and children throughout rural Ireland while also allowing them to access education in a carbon efficient manner;
– an eligible child for whom no transport service is available may receive a Remote Area Grant towards the cost of private transport arrangement;
– Bus Éireann has experienced unprecedented demand for the service this summer with over 130,000 applications received including 44,299 first-time applicants; and
– to date over 121,000 school bus tickets have been issued to school children;
– the Government attempted to ease the financial burden to families by announcing the waiving of fees for the 2022/23 school year on 5th July;
– there is a lack of capacity within the system to process and meet the demand for the increased number of school transport applications;
– the Government announcement was not based on any assessment of the impact it would have on children and families already availing of school transport;
– the measures have failed to in their objective for some families who are now facing serious financial hardship in attempting to source alternative transport to school;
– the failure of the IT system to issue the school transport payment request or the ticket request to some email accounts left families without a ticket at the start of the school year;
– the current demand has led to families not receiving a decision on their application until after the commencement of the school year causing additional hardship in sourcing alternative transport at unacceptably short notice;
– the failure to provide transport to pupils availing of the service in previous years has forced families into travelling an additional 100km daily; and
– due to the lack of adequate notice this has posed child welfare issues in some instances with children arriving at school well in advance of any supervision or facilities being opened;
calls on the Government to:
– increase the rates paid for the Remote Area Grant to reflect the current cost of providing such transport;
– ensure that all eligible children are provided with a school transport service and pending the delivery of this service parents will be issued with a payment under the remote area grant at the revised rate’
– provide free transport on town bus services to all school children thus avoiding the need to use the free school transport service;
– ensure that all children and their siblings in receipt of a service in the last academic year are provided with a service for 2022/23;
– secure the provision of private contractors with larger vehicles to ensure that all valid applications received by the July 29th, 2022, are issued with tickets;
– where private bus operators or drivers are unable to deliver a service, to seek the assistance of the Defence Forces and Reserve Defence Force members;
– provide funding to schools to open earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings to facilitate school transport and other alternative transport arrangements of parents caused by the changes to the scheme;
– ensure that school transport appeals to the Department of Education are dealt with in an expeditious manner and that a compassionate approach is taken based on the financial hardship caused to families should the appeal be rejected; and
– direct Bus Eireann to remove its own policy of precluding drivers of 70 years and over from driving school buses and instead apply the Road Safety Authority standards which are applicable to all other drivers.
Sponsor(s) Denis Naughten, Cathal Berry, Seán Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy, Matt Shanahan, Peadar Tóibín