Education | School transport system
To ask the Minister for Education the degree to which the school transport system has been reviewed with a view to making such transport available to those who had access heretofore and those who might require school transport in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. In the last school year over 121,400 children, including over 15,500 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. The cost of the scheme in 2021 was €289m.
In July 2022, Government announced funding for the waiving of school transport scheme fees for the coming school year as part of a wider package of cost-of-living measures.
Ticket registration for the 2022/23 school year closed on 29 July by which time almost 130,000 applications/registrations were received for mainstream school transport. This figure includes 44,299 new applications as well as roll-overs from the previous school year.
– This year to date, over 127,800 tickets have issued to students around the country, an increase of approx. 24,200 relative to the same point last year, which is an increase of over 23%. There has been an increase of over 20% to date in the number of tickets issued to eligible pupils and an increase of over 33% to date on the number of tickets issued to concessionary pupils, compared to the start of the 2021/2022 school year.
All children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time have now been accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.
In addition, pending completion of the outcome of the full review of the School Transport Scheme, Temporary Alleviation Measures at post-primary level have continued for the 2022/2023 school year. Under these measures, transport is provided for post-primary pupils who are eligible for transport to their nearest school and are attending their second nearest school and who applied by the 29th April and registered for a ticket by the 29th July.
As part of the budgetary process, some additional funding has been approved for the scheme which has allowed officials in the Department of Education, in consultation with Bus Éireann, to consider and evaluate where additional capacity may be available. Bus Éireann have been prioritising areas where there were “on time concessionary pupils” who had tickets previously.
It is important to stress that this is subject to capacity considerations. Constraints in sourcing vehicles and drivers in certain areas of the country may also mean that it may take a number of weeks to explore solutions for additional capacity.
As you are aware my Department commenced a review of the School Transport Scheme in February 2021. The review is being conducted with a view to examining the current scheme, its broader effectiveness and sustainability, and to ensure that it serves students and their families adequately.
The review encompasses the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs and the Primary and Post-Primary School Transport Schemes to include an examination of eligibility criteria, trends, costs and cost drivers, and overall effectiveness in meeting scheme’s objectives.
The review will also examine the potential for integration of different strands of the scheme and a more co-ordinated approach with other Government Departments that also use transport services. The review will consider issues such as climate action, supporting rural development and promoting where possible initiatives that encourage walking and cycling to school.
Wider considerations relating to operation of the scheme are now taking place in the second phase of the review. The Technical Working Group has undertaken extensive consultation over the last number of months; including running a public survey for parents/guardians and students who use the service and those who do not use the service but who would like to. The Group has also consulted with a broad array of stakeholders including schools, special education interest groups, industry representatives and other Government Departments.
The Steering Group will continue to report to me on an interim basis as the review progresses.
While work on the review is being impacted somewhat by challenges including the pandemic and the impact on resources arising from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, it is anticipated that the completion of the final phases of the review will be in the shortest timeframe possible. I will then examine and consider the final recommendations once received from the steering group on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme.
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