A number of families with children attending Rathcormac National School in Co Cork are without school transport places for their children almost a month into the term.
There was a significant increase in demand for the School Transport Scheme for the 2022/23 academic year after the Government made tickets free as a measure to ease cost of living pressures. However, a resulting surge in demand has left some pupils who once had seats without them.
Evelyn Murphy, from Kildinan, has three children without a place on the bus for the near-10km journey to Rathcormac. The Murphys are one of seven families, with 11 children between them, now making alternative arrangements.
“I used to put the kids on the bus and I would have time to go back down to milk the cows,” she said. “Right now I am driving the six miles at 9am, at 2pm [to collect a junior infant] and at 3pm [for her older children],” she said.
The school in Kildinan closed years ago, and Ms Murphy and others affected say a promise was made then that there would always be a bus to get their children to Rathcormac. Children who live 3.2km or more from their local primary school are deemed eligible for the transport scheme and, where spare seats arise, children who are not eligible can apply on a concessionary basis.
“It is crazy. The bus passes our house,” she said.
Stephanie Jones, another affected parent, said a minibus should be put in place for those without tickets for the 56-seat bus. Monique Barry, whose children are also impacted, said the system for allocating places is bewildering and the situation has been “very upsetting” for parents and children.
In a statement, Bus Éireann said the School Transport Scheme, which it operates on behalf of the Department of Education, is catering for some 133,000 students.
“In Co Cork, a 7 per cent increase of tickets has been issued to eligible and concessionary pupils in the county compared to this time last year,” it said.
“Because of the nature of concessionary transport for non-eligible children and the priority of providing places for eligible children, there may be an excess of demand over supply for concessionary places.”
Minister for Education Norma Foley recently said she is doing everything in her power to assist schoolchildren who have been left without a school bus place.
In an interview by RTÉ a fortnight ago, Ms Foley said she did not for one minute underestimate “the frustration, the stress and the pressure” being placed on affected families.