Four in five post-primary school buses won’t be able to accommodate pupils on a socially-distanced basis next week.
ith a full return to classrooms days away, a review of the 2,100 routes serving post-primary schools has exposed the limits of the service when confronted with Covid-19.
Only one fifth of services will be at the required 50pc capacity at the start, leaving thousands of students without a socially-distanced seat on the school bus next week and for some time to come.
The other four in five services will operate without social distancing and it will be up to parents of a child who is eligible for a place to decide whether they should get on the bus.
Alternatively, they can claim up to €25.50 a week to drive the child to and from school themselves – or pay someone else to do it.
The Department of Educaton had been planning to run all school transport without social distancing, but had to do an about-turn last week, after new advice.
The public health advisory body Nphet said second-level pupils on school transport must maintain social distance, which reduced seating capacity by 50pc.
In the case of primary pupils, Nphet said social distancing should be maintained “where possible.”
Bus Éireann engaged in an immediate review, the outcome of which was announced today and will include schedule changes and the sourcing of additional vehicles and drivers.
Knowing the capacity wasn’t in the system for social distancing, the Department of Education announced last week that it would pay a daily grant of €5.10 to families of eligible second-level pupils to get them to and from school. They can use the family car and claim the allowance, which is on a sliding scale, at the end of the school year.
The plan is to phase in social distancing across the transport scheme but Bus Éireann said today that only one fifth of services would be at 50pc capacity at the start.
About 52,000 second-level pupils are eligible for school transport, and, while the capacity of individual routes varies, it leaves thousands of students without a socially-distanced seat on the bus next week and for some time to come.
Bus Éireann is now assessing which routes will need more resources and then has to secure buses and drivers and go through necessary vetting and training processes
It will come at a hefty cost and the company said it was “drawing and allocating resources from across the organisation to support these efforts.” The transport scheme already costs more than €219m a year.
Education Minister Norma Foley said last week that it was previously estimated that about another 1,600 vehicles would be required to facilitate social distancing on post-primary buses.