A number of irate parents have been forced to transfer their children from one school to another because of delays in the issuing of bus tickets
Local representatives have called on the Department of Education and Bus Éireann to solve the problem of school bus tickets as more and more parents struggle to secure transport for their children.
In the Ballymahon Municipal District, Cllr Paul Ross has said he has received a significant number of calls from concerned parents, prompting him to call on the Minister for Transport and Minister for Education to come together to ensure that every child that needs school transport is able to avail of it.
“In the past 2 weeks I have been inundated with anxious parents ringing me to tell me that they have been told that there is no room on the school bus and also problems with medical card holder applications due to the HSEs IT issues in the summer,” Cllr Ross told the Leader.
“This has put parents under severe stress at the last minute before schools resume and is not fair on students or parents.
“The lack of a phone helpline is also causing great distress as it is proving very hard to get information on what is happening.
“We are being told that buses are full and are only at limited capacity but that is not good enough of an excuse and there are plenty of private operators who can supply buses to ensure every child gets to school.
“A lot of parents have no other option but to use the school bus and to deprive them of a seat is akin to depriving them of an education which is unacceptable.”
His council colleague, Garry Murtagh has expressed similar concerns for families in the Granard Municipal District and has called on Longford County Council to write to the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, to review the school transport system in rural counties such as Longford and in particular North Longford, where he says there is a very complex roads network, which proves extremely difficult in the planning of bus routes.
“The allocation of one additional bus in support of the service provided, crossing a number of routes would go a long way to solve the problem of overcrowding and children been refused a ticket due to the lack of places available on the national school transport system,” said Cllr Murtagh.
“It is our children’s fundamental and constitutional right to an education and therefore it is absolutely ridiculous not to provide sufficient services such as busses to facilitate the rights of our children living in rural Ireland. All children living in urban or rural Ireland should be treated equal.
“Even the ridiculous suggestion of a concessional ticket and the lack of empty consideration and manner in the allocation or refusal of such tickets is degrading and farcical to say the least.”
Cllr Murtagh added that the Department should take “a serious look” at the logistics and viability of their operation.
“There are working parents that depend on the school bus to bring their children to and from school safely, who are not in a position to arrange alternative transport,” he said, “and to be informed after the school recess has started that their children’s ‘concessionary’ ticket has been rescinded regardless of the fact they may have held this ticket for two years or their older sibling/s still hold their concessionary tickets.”
Sinn Féin TD for the Longford/Westmeath constituency, Sorca Clarke, has also spoken out against the shortfallings of the School Transport Scheme.
“Every summer, I speak with families Longford Westmeath who are struggling to meet the costs of the return to school. And every summer, the school transport palaver adds significantly to their stress,” she said.
“Either they cannot get a seat for their child, or the costs associated with securing a seat will place a crippling financial burden on their family.
Sinn Féin last week launched proposals that would see an additional 17,000 seats funded on the School Transport Scheme in the next academic year and the elimination of fees over a five-year government term.
“Sinn Féin are proposing to invest €17m to deliver 17,000 extra places in the next academic year, eliminate fees at a cost of €13.8m over a five-year government term and allocate €5m for the purchase of new school buses next year,” said Deputy Clarke.
“Our plans will add more buses and routes, reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector, cut back to school costs for families and encourage the use of public transport from a young age.”
Meanwhile, Senator Micheál Carrigy has personally contacted the Department of Education and Bus Éireann to seek clarification on the numbers of student that have applied for transport and the numbers that have received seat on school buses.
“I also believe that they need to keep the additional buses that were supplied due to Covid-19 and, in line with recent changes to public transport, they now need to look at a percentage capacity on these routes and offer seats as soon as possible to families who are waiting on word as to whether their children will get a seat on the school bus or not,” he said.
“There was a review carried out by the Department of Education on the School Transport System. However, the same issues are still arising, i.e. families being left in limbo at the start of the school year waiting to see when their children gets a seat on the bus.
“Why can this not be done earlier in the summer? Also many of us have seen (even prior to Covid-19) school buses pass with many empty seats on them. Can Bus Éireann not review this on a regular basis and ensure if people are not using the service on a regular basis that they return their ticket?
“Also a big hinderance to getting drivers for these short school routes are Bus Éireann’s policy that over 70s are not eligible to drive children to school. However, these same drivers can drive buses to Cork, Kerry, Dublin etc,” he concluded.
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