Education | Access to school transport in north Kildare
To ask the Minister for Education if she will examine the situation in relation to school transport in north Kildare whereby some students still find themselves unable to access the school transport system, even on a concessionary basis, and notwithstanding the fact that the service can be availed of and put in place; 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 the Department of Education. In the current school year over 147,900 children, including over 18,000 children with special educational needs, are transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country.
In addition, school transport scheme services are being provided in the current school year for over 3,800 children who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine.
The total cost of the scheme in 2022 was €332.2m.
Children are eligible for transport at primary level where they reside not less than 3.2 kilometres from and are attending their nearest national school, and at post primary level where they reside not less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest post primary school/education centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.
Families may still apply for school transport following the closing date, however, if applications are late, a place on a service cannot be guaranteed as many local services may be already operating to capacity.
Children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time are now accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation.
In addition, temporary alleviation measures have been continued for the current 2022/23 school year, pending completion of the review and this means that transport will be 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 2022 and registered for a ticket by the 29th July 2022.
Children who are not eligible for school transport, but who completed the application process on time, are considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children have been facilitated; such seats are referred to as concessionary seats.
Because of the nature of concessionary transport for non-eligible children and the priority of providing places for eligible children, there may be an excess of demand over supply for concessionary places, in these cases Bus Éireann will allocate tickets for spare seats using an agreed selection process.
As part of the budgetary process some additional funding was approved for the scheme which has allowed Department officials, in consultation with Bus Éireann to consider and evaluate where temporary additional capacity may be available.
The initial focus has been where families applied on time and who previously held concessionary ticket.
However, it is important to stress that this is subject to capacity considerations. It has become increasingly difficult to source additional contractors due to the lack of availability of buses, drivers, and an increase in fuel and maintenance costs.
A review of the School Transport Scheme commenced 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.
It will also involve an examination of issues around eligibility criteria, scheme performance, scheme expenditure and the potential for scheme integration.
Significant consultation has been undertaken as part of this review. A public survey was administered for parents/guardians and students who use the service and those who do not use the service but who would like to. A broad array of stakeholders including schools, special education interest groups, industry representatives and other Government Departments were all consulted as part of this review.
While work on the review was impacted somewhat by the current conflict in Ukraine, and by the increased demand for the scheme in summer 2022 due to fees being waived, my officials are working to complete phase 3 of the review within the coming weeks with recommendations on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme. Once approved by Government it is planned that the review will be published.
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