Saturday 17 March 2018

School bus plan a 'slash and burn' exercise, says FF

Fianna Fail education spokesperson Thomas Byrne. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fianna Fail education spokesperson Thomas Byrne. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Laura Larkin, Katherine Donnelly and Kevin Doyle

Opposition TDs have branded proposals which could see thousands of pupils lose school bus places as a "slash and burn exercise" that will mostly impact upon rural children.

The Department of Education is currently reviewing the service and is considering smaller vehicle sizes in the future.

The proposals could see one in five pupils at risk of losing their place on the school bus.

Children with 'concessionary' tickets - currently there are 22,000 countrywide - are at risk of losing out as they secure a place only when there are spare seats on the bus.

"The way it's being proposed in the minister's briefing is just a 'slash and burn' exercise. It's not about reform or review.

"It's of concern that this process seems to be under way for quite some time," Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on education, Thomas Byrne, said.

"It generally affects very rural areas, people who are finding costs going up all the time for transport."

He added: "If it is completely removed, it will be a huge problem and it will put parents under increasing pressure. It seems very crude, what's actually being planned."

In the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there were locations in the country "where 50-seater buses may be carrying three or four pupils".

He continued: "Is there a way of making it more efficient or effective? It is no harm to carry out a review of some of these elements."

However, Mr Kenny offered assurances that the review did not necessarily mean that services would be cut.

He added: "School transport has obviously been an essential part of the education system since its introduction way back in the 1960s. Clearly, the minister will be careful in his review, so students will continue to have the opportunity to travel to school and receive a proper education."

But a spokeswoman for Bus Éireann, which runs the service on behalf of the State, said there was "no way" that there would be a loss of 22,000 'concessionary' seats on school buses as a result of any moves to reduce vehicle size.

She said that there was no question of downsizing every bus, but added: "When we assess routes, we have to base it on the number of eligible pupils that we see, or know are in the system."

Irish Independent

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