Parents have expressed growing frustration and anger over massive shortages in the number of bus seats available for students under this year's School Transport Scheme.
With schools expected to resume in just a few weeks, a growing number of families are experiencing difficulties in securing places for their children on school buses.
One family has faced the news that only some of their children will have a place on a school bus in the coming year while several others have been given the news that no previously held concessionary places are available for their children for the 2022/23 school year.
Sinn Féin Deputy, Martin Kenny said that while there are always issues with the scheme this year has seen a surge in the number of families facing into the new school year with no school bus transport for their children.
The problem, he said, has been exacerbated by the announcement that there will be no charge for those using school buses this year as part of a package of measures to reduce cost of living pressures.
“While having no charge is welcome, it has had the knock on impact that families who previously qualified for the School Transport Scheme but did not avail of a space, are now taking up the offer of free transport and pushing out those who have what are known as concessionary tickets,” he explained.
Concessionary tickets are issued to students who may not meet the criteria for a bus seat, but who may be offered a seat if there is capacity still available on a route.
Deputy Kenny said he has been contacted by a number of families now facing an “impossible situation”.
“One woman I have been contacted by, both she and her husband are working. Their child was previously dropped into a creche when they headed to work and nearby was a bus stop from which the child was collected and brought to school. Now they have been told that there are no seats available for their child on the bus,” he said.
Deputy Kenny said that he had also heard from some families who have had concessionary tickets for years but this year have discovered that only one or two of their children have a place on the bus while their remaining children don't.
“What are they going to do? Put half of their children on a bus and then drive the rest to school? It is nonsensical,” he said.
Deputy Kenny added that when the School Transport Scheme was first introduced, travel was free for all students, but reforms of the system in 2012 led to charges being introduced for those not in receipt of a medical card or not meeting qualifying criteria. He said that “since then the problems have just been worsening.”
“In 2012 there were changes made which meant that children would only qualify if they were being transported to their nearest school, even if this wasn't their parish school or in some cases, not even in the same county. Thankfully this has been addressed and children can now qualify if they have to attend the second nearest school,” said Deputy Kenny.
However minimum passenger numbers were also introduced resulting in the loss of any route with less than 10 students.
Changes were also introduced creating set pick up locations so many families now face the prospect of driving their children to a bus stop for collection.
“I know one family who drive their children 2.5km to a bus stop to go to school in town only just a few kilometres from the bus stop. It makes no sense to drive most of the way to a school just to (have their children get a bus seat),” he said.
Deputy Kenny said major reform is required along with the provision of more buses and drivers. He said that less than €20m extra funding a year would ensure that all children requiring bus transport are catered for.
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