THE outdated and backward school bus transport system can ‘be a quick fix if there is a will to do it,’ a meeting heard this week.
Councillors were unanimous in their condemnation of a ‘chaotic’ school transport system at a meeting of Cork County Council, after they noted that hundreds of students were still without bus tickets, with one councillor questioning if Bus Éireann is fit to run the service.
Minister for Education Norma Foley also came in for major criticism with one councillor claiming she ‘went to ground’ when issues arose as schools returned. Cllr Gillian Coughlan (FF) – who held a meeting in Bandon last Friday with frustrated parents – said this year beggars belief.
‘No planning was put in place and it caused huge distress to so many families. I’m losing faith in Bus Éireann to manage the school transport system,’ she said. Cllr Coughlan called for a standalone bureau on school transport and said it’s ‘not rocket science’ to get it right. She pointed out that eligible students whose parents had Yahoo email accounts lost out, because Bus Éireann’s system didn’t recognise Yahoo email addresses. ‘There is also the safety issue and if we had fewer cars coming to the school gates every day it would be safer. A whole new attitude is needed.’
County mayor Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) said he knows bus company owners in West Cork who didn’t even know the routes the day before schools came back. ‘What were officials doing all summer long? The whole thing has blown up in Minister Foley’s face now – she and her Department didn’t plan ahead when announcing free transport,’ said Cllr Collins.
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) said the system is ‘in shambles’ adding if Bus Éireann can’t do their job, then a new authority should be brought in to run the scheme, while Cllr John O’Sullivan said it’s a ‘fiasco’ and needs to be urgently sorted. Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) said they’re almost into the third week of September and some families are still in limbo. ‘The minute schools break up it should be sorted and Bus Éireann should be liaising with all national schools to find out how many are going to secondary school each year,’ said Cllr Carroll.
Cllr Paul Hayes (Ind) said it’s the ‘hot topic’ in West Cork now and called for town pick-ups to be included in any scheme to take more cars off the roads. ‘Minister Foley was front and centre in announcing the free transport and absolutely went to ground when issues arose and she failed to answer questions on it,’ said Cllr Hayes. Cllr Alan Coleman (Ind) said he didn’t think it was a good idea to introduce free transport as it’s ‘totally chaotic’ now and there are plenty of ‘handy-to-have-a-ticket parents’ who may only use the buses on occasion.
Cllr William O’Leary (FF) said the guidelines are ‘outdated and redundant’.
Cork South West FF TD Christopher O’Sullivan, who attended two meetings on the matter last weekend said that thankfully many outstanding applicants have now received tickets. ‘However, there are still very obvious blackspots, and this includes Rossmore and the route to Clonakilty and there also routes to Bandon from Ballineen and Ballinhassig.’
An online meeting with parents was also organised by Sinn Féin this week with Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
Meanwhile, after Minister Foley attended a Seanad debate on Wednesday, Sen Tim Lombard (FG), who attended, said he was very disappointed that she offered no immediate solution.
‘She doubled down on the ongoing review into the system, but we need an immediate solution within the next 10 days. It’s a political timebomb which is building by the hour,’ he said.