Students told no space for them on buses days before new term

Tinahely and Redcross students without school bus places

Aoife Kelly, Leighann Gavin, John Kavanagh, Ann Marie Mullen and Mairead Kirwan from the Tinahely area, whose children will not get seats on the bus to Coláiste Bhríde Carnew

Deborah ColemanBray People

Approximately 20 south Wicklow families who had applied and paid for bus tickets for their secondary school children have been told just days before term begins, that their children cannot be accommodated.

Parents of new first year and returning pupils applied for tickets at the beginning of the summer and many have been told that their children will not get seats as they are within the catchment area for Coláiste Eoin, Hacketstown, rather than Coláiste Bhríde where they will attend.

Aoife Kelly, whose daughter Holly started secondary school on Monday, paid €350 for a bus ticket and, as of yesterday, still was unclear as to whether a ticket would be allocated.

'I've been told there's no bus for my daughter. I don't drive and, even after I've paid €350, I've still no answers. The other day I was told that we wouldn't be getting a ticket and I would receive a refund and then when I logged on to my account, the Bus Éireann website said that a ticket was issued but that there was no seat. I am in limbo as to what is happening,' she said.

Fellow parent Leighann Gavin, whose son Joseph has started first year, said that the money was taken from all the parents before it was clear if they had a seat or not.

'I paid €135 for a ticket and then was told there was no seat available. Myself and many other parents have been in touch with Bus Éireann non-stop and they have just stopped answering our calls,' she said.

Catriona Shannon's son Paidí was allocated a concessionary ticket last year, which means that he was allocated a seat after all the pupils nearer to the school were already accommodated.

This year, they have not yet been informed if he will receive a ticket and Ms Shannon has had to take time off work to do the school runs until they know what is happening with their application.

'This year his application was made automatically by Bus Éireann in April as he was an existing ticket holder and I made the payment for the ticket on June 27, well before the end of July deadline. I received a receipt from Bus Éireann.

'On June 20, it became apparent to me that all our neighbours on the road had received their tickets and an email from Bus Éireann. I had not received an email or a ticket. Since July 20, I have called Bus Éireann twice and emailed three separate email addresses. I have no information if my son will get his ticket. I am taking time off work this week as a result to drive himself and others affected to school and collect them,' Ms Shannon said.

Yesterday, an update to her Bus Éireann account outlined that no seat is available.

Ms Shannon added that aside from the availability of seats, the application system is very confusing and stressful for parents, especially those who do not drive and depend on this transport for their children.

'Whatever about the stress of not being allocated a ticket, the real stress arises from complete lack of information from Bus Éireann and lack of transparency in the process. I have spoken to people who applied after the deadline and were granted tickets while existing ticket holders have received no information. It is a system that has to change. The stress and upheaval is not something families should have to deal with when they are returning to school,' she said.

A spokesperson for Bus Éireann said tickets are allocated to applicants who reside within 4.8km of their local school and, after that, those outside this distance are considered for concessionary tickets.

'Children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8 kms from and are attending their nearest education centre as determined by the Department of Education & Skills/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language. Distance eligibility will be determined by Bus Éireann by measuring the shortest traversable route from the child's home to the nearest education centre,' the spokesperson said.

'The families reside nearer to Hacketstown PP Centre and are deemed concessionary to Carnew PP Centre. Concessionary transport is granted on the following grounds: there is spare capacity on the service; routes will not be extended or altered, additional vehicles will not be introduced, nor will larger vehicles or extra trips using existing vehicles be provided to cater for children travelling on a concessionary basis; no additional State cost will be incurred; the appropriate annual charge is paid; Medical Card waiver is not applicable.'

The spokesperson added that the availability of concessionary transport may vary from year to year, is not available on public scheduled services and cannot be guaranteed for the duration of a child's post primary school education cycle.

'Where the number of applications for transport on a concessionary basis exceeds the number of seats available, Bus Éireann will determine the allocation of the tickets. The number of concessionary pupils offering for transport exceeded the number of seats available and a random selection was carried out and some families were not successful.

'It is not in Bus Éireann's remit to provide a service for surplus concessionary pupils,' the spokesperson said.