Monday 19 March 2018

Struggling school buses will be saved if number of pupils goes up, says minister

Minister John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
Minister John Halligan. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

School bus routes struggling to meet the threshold of 10 children will not lose their service if they can prove pupil numbers will increase in the coming years.

Minister of State John Halligan is to give a grace period for areas that are technically no longer entitled to a service.

He also said there would be no downsizing of school buses next year.

It comes after Fine Gael TDs and senators warned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar they will be "crucified" in the coming weeks unless action is taken to ensure there are enough buses on the road for September.

During 2016/17, in the region of 116,000 children, including some 12,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in about 4,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools.

However, there has been ongoing concern since 2011 that many children are not being provided with a service because the minimum number required in order for the Department of Education to fund a bus is 10. It was previously set at seven.

Minister of State Paul Kehoe said the current system did not take account of the different circumstances across rural Ireland.

"There's no 'one size fits all'. I don't believe that the department should be looking at this on an overall basis. They have to look at this on an individual, case-by-case basis."

The Taoiseach has told Fine Gael TDs and senators he will contact Mr Halligan to get an overview of the situation.

Last year, Mr Halligan set up a cross-party group to feed into a review of the rules governing the school transport scheme.

"Arising from this process, I made the decision that in instances where a route is to be withdrawn under minimum numbers criteria, and where the school affected can show evidence the number of eligible pupils will again reach 10 or more within two years, this route should not be withdrawn.

"There is no planned programme of downsizing school buses for the next school year, 2017/18.

"There will be route changes and variations in line with normal operational decisions that occur from year to year, and any impacts in terms of increases or decreases of available places nationally are expected to be marginal."

Irish Independent

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