August 26, 2018 by johnston00
Growing numbers of parents have voiced their frustration over a shortage of school bus places for their children just days before the new school year gets under way.
In many cases, children who have had school bus places for several years have been told no place is available for them .
Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the school transport system was “chaotic” and causing anxiety to hundreds of families.
The Department of Education said there was no shortage of places for “eligible” children who have completed the application process on time.
Eligible children are those who live a minimum distance – at least 3.2km at primary, and 4.8km at secondary level – from their closest school.
The controversy, however, surrounds so-called “concessionary” seats for children who are not automatically eligible for school transport. These children are considered only after eligible children have been facilitated.
In cases where the number of concessionary applications for school transport exceeds the number of spare seats available, tickets are allocated using a random selection process.
No longer eligible
“I received an e-mail telling me that not only will Caoimhe (13) not be able to get the school bus to start post-primary this year but that my 17-year old daughter Aoife, who has been getting the bus for the last four years is no longer eligible either,” she said.
“Each year, we have to apply and pay up front €300 per child for a place on the bus and then wait until last minute for approval.
“We’re told the seats for everyone are concessionary which means the student isn’t guaranteed a seat for the full duration of their education. This is just madness. My daughter has, in effect, been kicked off the bus.”
In Kildare, dozens of working parents have also complained that they have no way of organising alternative transport for their children to get to school.
One parent, a nurse, said she may have to give up work in order to get her child to school, while another said there were no other transport options in rural parts of Kildare.
Mr Byrne said the system has been in chaos since rules were changed several years ago to allocate seats based on the nearest school to a pupil’s home. Previously, a catchment area applied.
“The system needs to be changed. Fianna Fáil has pledged to introduce a school bus guarantee, so if you get a place in first year, you keep it. The current system is chaotic and is leaving too many families in limbo,” he said.
He said the nearest school rule was flawed as families’ circumstances can change if a new school is built in their locality, but they continue to attend one further away.
In a statement, Bus Éireann said the availability of concessionary transport may vary from year to year.
“It is not available on public scheduled services and cannot be guaranteed for the duration of a child’s post primary school education cycle,” it said.
“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.”
Distance eligibility, it said was determined by measuring the shortest traversable route from the child’s home to the relevant education centre.
Last year it transported some 116,000 school children daily across the school term. A minority of these seats are concessionary.
A Department of Education spokesman added that the availability of concessionary transport varies based on the capacity on the buses running on all of the various routes.
“Because of the nature of concessionary transport for non-eligible children and the priority of providing places for eligible children, there is always an excess of demand over supply for concessionary places,” a spokesman said.
Carl O’Brien, Louise Walsh