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School transport fees to remain frozen at lower levels next year

Pupils living one to two kilometres from schools may become eligible for transport under planned expansion by 2030

School transport fees are set to remain frozen at their current lower rates in the next school year for thousands of pupils.

It is one a number of recommendations from a long-running review of the school transport scheme which is due to be discussed by Cabinet Ministers next week.

The scheme, managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education, transports almost 150,000 children on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the State.

Before the cost-of-living crisis, annual school transport scheme fees were €100 for primary students and €350 for secondary school students, and the cap was €650 per family.


Fees were waived for a year during the cost-of living-crisis and then brought in at a lower rate to reduce the problem of students claiming bus places but not using them.

The lower rate for a primary schoolchild is €50 and for a post- primary schoolchild is €75, with a maximum family fee of €125.

It is understood that the fee structure will be kept in place for the 2024-2025 school year and families will be able to apply for tickets for the new school year when the Bus Éireann portal opens at the end of this month.

Children who hold a full medical card will remain exempt from the annual charge, as will children who are eligible for the special education transport services.

Sources say distance rules for eligibility to the scheme will remain the same for the forthcoming 2024-2025 school year due to the current challenges securing additional buses and drivers in the tight labour market.

However, the review recommends phasing in a series of changes in the period up to 2030, including a reduction in the distance rules and the abolition of the “nearest school” rule, which requires a student applying to the school transport scheme to choose the nearest school to their house.

Under current rules, a primary school pupil must live at least 3.2km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme.

This will reduce to two kilometres and then one kilometre, depending on available funding, say informed sources.

A secondary school pupil must currently live at least 4.8km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme. This will reduce to 2km, depending on available funding.

Taken together, these measures would significantly expand the number of pupils who qualify for school transport scheme.

However, the easing of a demographic bulge of school pupil numbers may ease some of the anticipated demand.

The Irish Times previously reported that the draft findings from the review make the case that the transport scheme supports wider Government policies in areas such as climate action, rural connectivity, tackling rural deprivation, supporting the labour market and working parents and fostering life skills for children.

“While operating at significant cost to the exchequer, the school transport scheme has demonstrable wider economic benefits and offers a vital public service without which many families would struggle to find alternative modes of transport to and from school,” one record states.

The total cost of the scheme in 2022-2023 was almost €340 million. The numbers using school transport are expected to climb again in the 2023-2024 school year.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent