Getting there is half the fun
There are a number of cheap alternatives to taking the car to and from school, writes John Cradden
By 2012, the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, says he wants to see 265,000 school kids walking, cycling or taking public transport to school rather than travelling by car.
An oft-quoted statistic from the Department of Transport is that around 60pc of school kids travel to school by car, with 55,000 of them being driven a distance of less than 2km.
But the Government's Green School Travel programme, run in conjunction with An Taisce since 2008, appears to be having some impact, with more than 450 schools and 144,000 children nationwide now participating -- an increase of 41pc since 2009.
Recent research carried out by Dublin Institute of Technology shows that car-based travel to participating schools has fallen by approximately 22pc on average in the first year of the programme.
Going green often takes some effort and sacrifices, but when it comes to school transport, considering alternatives to the car can also save money for parents who drive their kids to school.
We take a look at the costs of public transport and compare them with the car.
For children who live more than three miles away from school, the most convenient and cost-effective way to get there is the free or subsidised school bus.
More than 128,000 pupils use school transport scheme services daily and just under 6,000 routes are covered every day.
For children attending primary school, and who live more than two miles (3.2 km) from school, the school bus service is free.
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.
For secondary school students, the good news is that there is a subsidised school bus scheme available for those living more than three miles (4.8km) away.
The charges for tickets were increased by the Department of Education and Skills in 2009/2010. However, for about 38pc of secondary school students whose families hold medical cards, the charge is waived.
Prior to 2009/2010, it used to cost €168 for junior cycle children and €234 for senior cycle children per annum (which in turn was a substantial increase from €99 and €153 in 2007), but now it costs a flat €300 for each student.
There is no further increase for the 2010/2011 school year, according to a spokesman for Bus Eireann.
The Department of Education and Skills points out that there has been no increase in school transport charges between 1998 and 2007, and that the maximum amount payable by a single family for any number of children on a school bus would be no more than €650.
CONCESSIONARY BUS FARES
Dublin Bus offers a number of concessionary fares for schoolchildren. According to a spokesman, the maximum cash fare for a school child is 30pc less than the equivalent adult fare.
The schoolchild fare for children aged under 16 is €0.65.
The Travel 90 Schoolchild Smartcard for children under 16 costs €6.50, while the Travel 90 Scholar Smartcard for students aged between 16 and 19 costs €10.00.
Both tickets are valid for 10 journeys of 90 minutes unlimited travel to and from primary and secondary schools.
Alternatively, the Child 5-Day Rambler Smartcard, which is valid for children aged under 16, gives unlimited travel all day on any of the five weekdays. This works out at a maximum of €1.40 each day.
School children aged between three and 16 are eligible for reduced fares on Irish Rail for travelling to school.
In addition, secondary and third level students can apply for the Student Travelcard. It costs €12 per year and entitles the student to a range of discounts on rail travel, as well as on some bus services.
According to AA Ireland, the average running costs of cars doing an average of 16,000 km a year can range from about 56c right up to €1.27 per km.
So if you take a typical 1.6-litre engine car, a 20 km round trip ferrying the kids to and from school could cost you as much as €15.60 per day.
However, the AA assumes that you are paying a number of standing charges, such as parking costs, which may not apply in all cases.
But even if you subtract some of these charges, the cost of taking the car makes the flat €300 fee per student for the secondary school bus service, which equates to about €1.80 a day, look very reasonable, particularly as some journeys will be more than 10km each way.