Local TD Denis Naughten has been informed by Minister Norma Foley TD that she is seeking additional funds in next week’s Budget to address the current school transport situation, however, he has highlighted the fact that the Minister “is not guaranteeing that children and their siblings who had a bus service last year will get a service this year”.
Denis Naughten was informed by the Minister for Education that she is seeking additional funds in the Budget to issue more tickets to concessionary school children who are not attending either their nearest school or second nearest school.
“I have received an unprecedented level of complaints from parents in relation to school transport and, as a result, I raised this issue with the Education Minister in the Dáil this week. She has now responded by stating that she is seeking approval in next week’s Budget for an additional 6,000 bus places which would ensure pupils who previously had a concessionary service will be able to avail of it for the forthcoming school year,” stated Denis Naughten.
“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 fifth 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.
“She did acknowledge as this was announced as a measure to assist with the cost of living, that she is hopeful she will secure additional funds for those families who had a service up to this school year.
“If this happens there are also pupils whose families are commencing in second level for the first time who will be able to secure a bus ticket, if there is sufficient capacity on the bus, but again the Minister is providing no guarantees.
“It seems to me that 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.
“I also acknowledge that progress has been made in that in the vast majority of cases eligible pupils and those attending their second nearest school have been accommodated, but there are still a number of outstanding cases, particularly involving children with a learning disability.”
Denis Naughten pointed out: “In many instances a school bus can be sourced but the problem is getting drivers. I believe this 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.
Link to extract from Committee discussion in the Dáil this week: https://youtu.be/kow6MCocQVI
Proposed Dáil motion:
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