Saturday 3 December 2016

Transport to school: Counting costs of getting there

Published 09/08/2011 | 05:00

You may have the best of intentions, but the choices you make about how best to transport your children to school are primarily influenced by how far away you live from the school premises.

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For those who live more than two or three miles away, the choices include the school bus, the ordinary bus, train or car.

The subsidised school-bus system probably represents one of the most convenient, cost-effective and green transport choices for those living further away from school.

But thanks to recent cuts to the school transport scheme for this school year, it's no longer as cheap as it was.

More than 128,000 pupils use the scheme's services daily and slightly fewer than 6,000 routes are covered every day.

The scheme works differently depending on whether your child is at a primary or secondary school.

For children attending primary school, and who live more than two miles (3.2km) from their nearest suitable school, the school bus service used to be free.

As in previous years, if there are spare seats available, other children who don't qualify for free seats can be carried on a fare-paying basis.

For the new school year, this concessionary fare is a single annual charge of €200 per student. The maximum annual amount for a family is €650.

But, in a move designed to save €3.5m out a total cost of €180m, the Department of Education and Skills is to require all parents whose children previously qualified for free seats to pay €50 per child, up to a maximum of €110 per family

For secondary school children, who live more than three miles (4.8km) away, the subsidised school bus system last year charged a flat fee of €300 per student, with the maximum for a family set at €650.

As part of the cutbacks, a surcharge of €50 will be added to the €300 flat fee for qualifying students.

However, for about 38pc of secondary school students whose families hold medical cards, the charge is waived.

The upshot of all this is that if you have two children at primary school and you live more than 3.2km away, you'll be asked to pay €100 a year for the school bus.

If you are unlucky enough to live just under 3.2kms from the school, you have to fork out €400 a year.

And if you have two children at secondary school who need the school bus, the charge will be €650.

The Government also plans to cut 150 routes as part of the cutbacks.

Furious

Not surprisingly, many parents are furious. The junior education minister Ciaran Cannon got an earful from a group of parents and teachers at a public meeting in Listowel, Co Kerry, where he confirmed that the changes would go ahead, despite the opposition.

The issue that is reportedly of most concern to the parents at the Listowel meeting -- and many others living in rural areas -- is the change to the so-called "closed" or central school rule.

This rule, dating from the 1970s, ensured primary school children from amalgamated schools were eligible for free transport to their new school, even when living more than one mile from their new school.

That entitlement has now been removed. From the start of this school year, the criteria distance of 3.2km will be applied nationally. In addition, the minimum number of pupils before a school bus service is provided will be 10, not seven.

Parents and teachers say this will devastate schools and create traffic hazards.

At the meeting, the minister urged parents to "pool resources" and return to the days when clubbing together was common practice.

Cycling/walking

Even if you are lucky enough to be living less than three miles (4.8km) from school, you may be among the parents who still insist on driving their kids to school.

An oft-quoted statistic from the Department of Transport is that around 60pc of children travel to school by car, with 55,000 of them being driven less than 2km.

But more than 430 schools nationwide are participating in the Government's Green School Travel programme, run in conjunction with An Taisce since 2008, aiming to reduce car-based travel to school.

A recent survey shows that participating schools saw a 27pc reduction in the use of private cars in favour of public transport, cycling or walking between 2008 and 2010.

But the financial incentive to lessen use of the car may be just as strong as the environmental one in these difficult economic times.

According to AA Ireland, the average running costs of cars travelling more than 16,000km a year can range from about 56c right up to €1.27 per km.

So, if you take a car in tax band C, a 20km round trip, ferrying the kids to and from school, could cost you as much as €14 per day in real terms.



Transport to school

Key points:

Six out of 10 children travel to school by car.

It costs €14 a day to ferry the children to school.

The school bus service used to be free for primary school children.

John Cradden

Irish Independent Supplement

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