A Department of Education spokesperson has said that all children eligible for school transport will be accommodated on services for the coming school year (where services are in operation) but those children seeking concessionary bus tickets "cannot be guaranteed" a seat.
This comes as concerns were raised this week after parents received emails stating their were no seats available for their children on school buses.
The children affected were not considered eligible for a guaranteed bus seat because they were not attending their nearest school. As such they are not guaranteed a seat and must pay for any available seats on current bus services. However, due to reduced capacity as a result of Covid-19, the availability of additional seating for concessionary ticket holders has been substantially reduced, something local TD, Martin Kenny says must be addressed by providing additional buses to cater for demand.
Deputy Kenny said that he had been made aware of a number of instances where families had children attending a school, where they had previously been able to secure a seat on a bus, albeit for a price, but were now facing the prospect of no school transport option for the coming year.
He said he had raised the issue with the Minister and stressed that the matter had to be resolved as the school year is set to begin.
Responding to queries from www.leitrimobserver.ie the Department of Education issued a statement noting that the School Transport Scheme "is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.
"In the 2020/21 school year over 114,100 children, including over 14,700 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €224.7m in 2020,"noted the statement.
"The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Under the terms of the scheme children are eligible for school transport where they reside not less than 3.2 kilometres at primary and 4.8 kilometres at post-primary and are attending their nearest school or education centre as determined by the Department/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.
"All children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application and payment process will be accommodated on school transport services for the 2021/22 school year where such services are in operation.
"Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis only and may be facilitated where spare seats are available after eligible children have been accommodated. The availability of concessionary transport overall may vary from year to year and cannot be guaranteed for the duration of a child’s primary/post-primary school education cycle. This information is set out in the published schemes. Where the number of applications for transport on a concessionary basis exceeds the number of seats available, Bus Éireann determines the allocation of tickets using an agreed selection process.
Speaking with regard to current reduced capacity limits the statement noted "The Department continues to engage with public health officials in relation to the safe operation of schools, including school transport. School Transport Scheme services for the 2021/2022 school year will fully operate but, similar to the 2020/2021 school year, services will operate with these additional measures and hygiene requirements in place. In line with Public Health advice, post-primary services will continue to operate at 50% capacity in the 2021/2022 school year. This capacity limit will be subject to ongoing review."
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