'When you say buses have to operate at 50% and expect private operators to make a loss, there's something wrong'
A school bus service for students in north Wexford has been given a temporary reprieve after it was feared more than 31 children would be without transport for their first week of lessons.
The children, who all live in the Coolgreany, Inch, Ballyfad, Kilanerin and Hollyfort areas and attend Colaíste Bhride in Carnew, had been due to travel with M & F Leonard Coaches for the forthcoming year.
However, the decision to reduce capacity to 50 per cent for all secondary school buses had forced to the private bus operator to increase its prices for the route.
Stating that it wasn't 'feasible' for them to operate the bus otherwise, Sandra Leonard had reluctantly asked parents to pay €50 a month to bring their children to school.
But with only some of the parents agreeing to the price change, it appeared as if the bus service would be lost and the children would have no means of attending school this week.
However, an intervention by local Fine Gael councillor Anthony O'Donoghue, has enabled the coach to run for the next four weeks, meaning the children will be back for the new academic year.
Making up the surplus through his own discretionary funds, Cllr O'Donoghue said that although the service was safe for the time being the problem was not resolved.
'The Department of Education should be the ones stepping up to resolve this. When you say buses have to operate at 50 per cent and expect private operators to make a loss then there's something wrong.
'I contacted the Department several times and received no reply. They need to step in and introduce a sub for people.'
With no Bus Éireann service in the area, the students are solely reliant on M & F Leonards to provide transport to school.
'There's a lot of kids dependent on this service, and parents who rely on it to give them peace of mind - it's a bus which picks them up at the gate and drops them back there in the evening,' said Cllr O'Donoghue.
'I've met with the parents, they have a lot of anxiety about the bus being discontinued; many commute to Dublin for work every morning and it's not feasible for them to drop the children at the school.
'I'm asking the Department of Education or Department of Transport to introduce a subsidy for private operators, to step up to the plate and sort this out.'
Having travelled to school himself on Leonard's buses, Cllr O'Donoghue was also cognisant of the impact the 50 per cent ruling was having on them and their business.
'The Leonards have been in business for nearly 60 years, I went to school myself on a Leonards bus, they offer an excellent service and excellent buses. Your heart would go out to them, they're good people.
'They built up that service from two or three buses to 12, were looking to expand into new markets and now they're in financial trouble.'
Meanwhile, Linda Kelly, who will have two children commuting to school on the bus, welcomed this temporary resolution but said she was fearful of what will happen in a month's time.
'Anthony has helped us out which we're very grateful for and Leonards have sent us out the new temporary bus route and are working strongly with us, so we couldn't fault them.
'But at the end of the four weeks we'll be back to square one. I don't know where this is going to lead after the month is over. I'm kind of hoping that when the buses start up people will realise how chock-a-block everything is.'