School bus operators given more than €5m to cover spiralling fuel bills

Additional support may be needed in coming months to keep services running, operators warn

School bus operators have welcomed the Government’s decision to give them more than €5 million to offset spiraling fuel costs for the first half of this year, but have warned that extra support may be needed in the coming months to keep services running.

Nearly 5,800 buses in the State’s School Transport Scheme are operated by private contractors, carrying more than 120,000 pupils daily under contract to Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education.

Confirming the funding in the Dáil last week, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said a contribution at a total cost of €5.3 million would be provided to the contractors to address the impact of the increased costs in the first half of the year.

He said that in the current school year more than 121,400 children, including some 15,500 children with special educational needs, are transported daily to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of more than €289 million last year. The issue was raised in the Dáil last week by Independent TD Mattie McGrath, who called for bus operators to be given a diesel rebate or get VAT refunds.

The Coach Tourism and Transport Council said it is keeping current inflationary pressures, due to factors such as the war in Ukraine, under constant review and would seek further support in future if necessary. “The funding will go some way towards offsetting the inordinate costs inflicted on operators as a consequence of geo-political developments,” said council chairman John Halpenny.

However, Tom Cross of Tom Cross Coach Hire Ltd, who runs up to 12 school buses in the Naas and Sallins areas of Co Kildare, claimed that the price of fuel could force some operators to pull out of the scheme.

“To put things in context, the price of diesel went up three times in the space of 24 hours on one day last week,” he said. “That may not be sustainable for a lot of operators who are small companies in their own right and they might decide not to continue with school contracts.

“The price of fuel could force them out. The school buses will finish up on June 30th and prices could be a lot higher again when we start back again in September.”