‘Huge’ numbers of children unable to access State-funded bus services
Children being ‘left at side of the road’ due to poor handling of transport scheme – TDs say
Bus Éireann’s acting chief executive, Stephen Kent, acknowledged that the service could do better, but insisted that ‘98-99 per cent’ of children were getting to school.
Huge numbers of children are being “left at the side of the road” and unable to get to school due to problems accessing State-funded school bus services, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
TDs at Wednesday’s meeting of the Oireachtas education committee expressed frustration that many children who have had places on the school transport scheme for years have been unable to get a bus seat this year.
Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said up to 30 children in rural parts of the Carlow-Kilkenny area were stranded and unable to get to school.
“There are huge numbers of children unable to get to school,” she said. “In some cases, parents are taking leave to try to get their children to school.”
Green Party TD Catherine Martin said some parents were “crying with frustration” over not being able to get through to Bus Éireann helplines.
Bus Éireann’s acting chief executive, Stephen Kent, acknowledged that the service could do better, but insisted that “98-99 per cent” of children were getting to school.
He said Bus Éireann was providing the State with “an efficient, effective, safe and reliable” transport service at a time when the numbers eligible to travel had been rising quickly.
Last year alone, he said, it was transporting almost 117,000 schoolchildren every day of the school term on 4,500 vehicles.
Key eligibility criteria for school transport are attendance at the nearest school, subject to also meeting the requisite distance criteria (3.2km for primary children and 4.8km for post primary children).
He said a key focus of recent media attention had been in relation to “ineligible” pupils who have not been accommodated on a service.
“The rules state that pupils who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time must be and are accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation,” he said.
“We have confirmed that there is no shortage of places for these eligible children, who have completed the application process and paid on time.”
He said children who were not eligible for school transport, but who completed the application process on time, were considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children had been facilitated.
These seats – known as concessionary seats – are allocated using a random selection process.
Under the terms of the scheme, the availability of transport for children who are not eligible varies from year to year, but can be based only on the capacity of the buses operating on various routes.
“Because we must always prioritise the provision of places for eligible children, there can be an excess of demand over supply for non-eligible places. It is worth noting however, that over 27,500 tickets of this kind have already been issued this year,” Mr Kent said.