The School Transport Scheme review needs to be published urgently as many parents are still in the dark regarding their child’s bus place for September 2023, said two Fine Gael Senators.
Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson for Education, Further and Higher Education, Senator Aisling Dolan, has consistently requested the expedition of this review.
Senator Dolan said, “The School Transport Review began in February 2021 and today, January 10th 2023, children are back to school and still we have no inkling of potential recommendations for the school transport programme for this year.
“The initial ticket deadline last year was April 2022 so this year, proposed recommendations from the Steering Group review need agreement by the Minister and Department of Education, ideally in early February 2023. Bus Éireann is integral in providing this service across towns and villages in Ireland and they need to plan ahead.
“We know the cost-of-living measures in 2022 to provide free access to those eligible for the school transport programme was extremely welcome with 121,400 children receiving a school bus ticket. However, it caused huge difficulties due to capacity issues, especially in regional areas with parents in dire situations and delays in allocation of tickets.
“This review will include an examination of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs and the Primary and Post-Primary School Transport Schemes and will look at eligibility criteria, trends, costs, and cost drivers, as well as overall effectiveness. The Steering Group published an interim report in 2021 which implemented the second nearest school option for post-primary and now a full overview of these outcomes is required to plan for the 2023/2024 school year.
“The term concessionary also needs review as we broaden eligibility for school transport places and ensure the viability of our primary and secondary schools. Early communication on the way the scheme will work is vital for parents and schools as soon as possible,” concluded Senator Dolan.
Cork Senator, Tim Lombard, added, “In December 2022, the Minister for Education acknowledged a delay in the publishing of the review. However, she also mentioned that we could anticipate the conclusion of the review ‘shortly’. It’s now a new year and we are still waiting on answers.
“Innovative ideas are required to tackle these issues. A 20% reduction in car journeys is an ambitious target outlined in CAP 23. Over the Christmas period, the reduction of cars on the road was notable. Extending this scheme to all school goers across Ireland would be a significant step in helping us achieve that target.
“Getting to school is part of the daily routine and of how communities operate in rural Ireland. Such disruption and uncertainty has put immense pressure on parents who are already facing cost of living challenges.
“Given the exceptional circumstances, it is essential that this review is expedited,” concluded Senator Lombard.