Local politicians have told of how they have fielded several calls from anxious parents over delays linked to the issuing of school bus tickets for the forthcoming academic year
Dozens of Longford schoolchildren are still no nearer to learning whether they will be given a seat on school buses despite returning to their desks following the summer holidays this week.
It comes on foot of an unprecedented number of applications on the back of last month’s government led announcement to waive school transport fees in a bid to counteract inflationary and cost of living hikes.
Local politicians have been quick to heap pressure on Leinster House leaders to rectify a saga which is fast becoming the latest political hot potato to dog an already under-fire coalition.
Fine Gael Cllr Paul Ross said the sudden surge in applications on the back of the Government’s announcement to defer school bus fees for at least 12 months has caused untold “mayhem” locally.
“In some cases a sibling has got a ticket and another has not,” he said, as he called on Education Minister Norma Foley to provide extra capacity in order to guarantee “no child is denied an education”.
He added: “The free school bus ticket is a measure that was designed to help struggling families cope with the cost of living crisis we find ourselves in but does not seem to have been fully thought out and now its seems that extra students have applied for places with no extra capacity and some students now find themselves with no school transport which will end up costing struggling parents far more .”
Fellow Fine Gael party member and Longford Senator Micheal Carrigy said a longer lead in time was required in order for scenarios similar to recent weeks when a deluge of applications for tickets are made by parents.
He also urged transport bosses to open talks with Bus Éireann with a view to boosting the number of drivers that are at the disposal of the State-owned operator.
“We need to look at changing the criteria within Bus Eireann where no person over the age of 70 can drive a bus,” he said.
“We have a situation where people who are retired and are qualified to drive are unable to transport kids to school at a time when we have a shortage of drivers and that needs to change.”
Independent Cllr Mark Casey was arguably more critical and pointed the finger squarely at the door of government bosses, stressing the fallout was indicative of a growing divide between urban and rural Ireland.
"They (Bus Éireann) don't have enough drivers," he said.
"Even if all those kids turned up they wouldn't have enough room to bring the kids to school.
"If this was a Dublin issue it would have long been sorted, but because this is going on in rural Ireland, no one gives a fiddlers."
In making reference to Robert Troy's decision to resign as a junior minister owing to his failure to declare his property interests, Cllr Casey took aim at under fire Education Minister Norma Foley.
"Our politicians are anonymous on this," he stormed.
"Some of our politicians should stop being landlords and start doing the job they were elected to do."
Longford-Westmeath Sinn Féin TD Sorcha Clarke claimed a record number of students will be refused a school bus seat this year as a consequence of the backlog in applications.
She added her constituency office in Longford, together with those in Mullingar and Athlone have been “overwhelmed” from worried and frustrated parents.
“The removal of fares has resulted in unprecedented numbers applying for the scheme, but because of the strict criteria in place, thousands of children who are categorised as ‘concessionary’ will now be refused a seat,” she contended.
“To make matters worse, many of those who are being refused have used the scheme for years and this leaves their parents in a very difficult position, as they cannot do the school run due to work commitments and totally depend on
the school bus.
"Families who expected to realise savings of €500 now look set, instead, to be heaped with additional costs as they try to find alternatives.”
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