Wednesday 21 August 2019

Bus Éireann to review school transport costs

The funding of the school transport scheme has been criticised by private operators, writes Fearghal O'Connor

Bus Éireann oversees a fleet of school buses. Photo: Caroline Quinn/PA Wire
Bus Éireann oversees a fleet of school buses. Photo: Caroline Quinn/PA Wire

Bus Éireann is to review the €166m school transport system it operates and has moved to increase transparency in the Government-funded scheme.

The scheme - which carries more than 117,500 children every day of the school term on over 5,000 vehicles - has long been a bone of contention for private bus operators.

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They have claimed that the State-owned transport company's complete control of the contract has given it the opportunity to cross-subsidise other services with equipment, premises or funding meant for school transport.

Bus Éireann - which has managed the school transport system on behalf of the Department of Education since 1967 - has always strenuously denied that this is the case, but has now moved to completely separate the accounting treatment of the school system from its main accounts.

The company confirmed that it would now also undertake a complete review of the school transport system.

"Bus Éireann is committed to transparency in relation to all costs related to the school transport scheme," said a spokeswoman for the company.

"As part of this process, we are currently seeking external guidance based on generally accepted accounting principles in developing a methodology for the possible preparation of discrete financial statements in respect of the school transport operation."

The company said that it provides the State with "an efficient, effective, safe and reliable school transport scheme that carries over 117,500 school children every day of the school term on over 5,000 vehicles, travelling over 6,500 routes that serve 3,000 schools nationally".

The transport company said it was carrying out a review of the school transport model "to ensure that it continues to operate as efficiently as possible, and (we) are seeking external guidance to facilitate this process".

Many of the routes in the school transport system are operated by private bus companies hired in by Bus Éireann.

The Coach Tourism and Transport Council (CTTC) of Ireland has previously called on the Comptroller and Auditor General to conduct an investigation into the use of school transport funds by Bus Éireann, claiming that the system could be operated successfully at a far cheaper cost to the Government.

"The CTTC believes the contract to manage the school transport scheme should be awarded to the National Transport Authority, or some other Stage agency that does not own a fleet, and so has less incentive and opportunity to divert school transport funds into other activities," it said.

The Bus Éireann spokeswoman said that the school transport scheme is "one of 'cost recovery' in that the Department of Education reimburses Bus Éireann for the costs involved in operating the school transport scheme on its behalf".

"The cost to Bus Éireann to administer the scheme on behalf of the department amounted to over €166m in 2018, of which over €146m related to the cost of contractors privately contracted by Bus Éireann to provide services under the scheme," she said.

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