THE school bus transport scheme has been described as ‘nothing short of shambolic’ as students in some parts of West Cork were left stranded on the roadside this week as schools returned after the summer holidays.
To add insult to injury, it is believed that over 45 minibuses have been grounded in West Cork over delays in securing garda vehicle clearances.
Unlike public transport, post-primary school transport continues to run at 50% capacity. Cork South West Independent TD Michael Collins, who has contacted both the Minister for Education and the Department of Transport on this issue, has called for a complete overhaul of the system, which he said ‘has failed families of school going children.’
He said his office has been inundated within the past week with calls from parents living in locations including Ardfield, Gaggin and Durrus, who have not received school bus tickets for their children, despite paying for them.
‘Many of them had been told they were expected to be on the system, but then they find out literally hours before the schools re-opened that there were no tickets available,’ said Deputy Collins.
‘This is totally unacceptable for working parents to find themselves in this crisis situation hours before their children are to attend school.’
He added that the allocation of the deadline for applying for tickets must be brought forward.
Deputy Collins said he also wants to see the tenders being put out by Bus Éireann for the past 10 years in order to see if reports are true that smaller buses have replaced bigger coaches on routes, thus leaving children who had been on a bus for a number of years without a seat.
‘I know of one parent in Gaggin whose daughter had a bus ticket for the past five years, but she has now been refused one because the bus is full and she is going into Leaving Cert this year,’ he added.
Deputy Collins also said the fact that 45 small buses weren’t cleared ahead of schools re-opening has added to the stress of many parents.
‘Some small bus operators have their buses parked up until they can get clearance, which may not be until later next week, These should have been cleared well in advance.’
It’s exactly two years since several students in Ballineen and Enniskeane were unable to secure school bus tickets, forcing the parents to drive them to school – and in some cases behind the bus – because some family members had secured bus tickets.
Sen Tim Lombard pointed out that some delays in the issuing of bus tickets for those with medical cards was down to the HSE cyber attack.
‘But we also need to get the capacity of the school buses increased and the Department of Education needs to realign its policy with the new guidelines that were issued on Tuesday in relation to public transport and full capacity provisions,’ said Sen Lombard.
FF Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan said he spoken with Education Minister Norma Foley and urged her to make the steps necessary to rectify and resolve the situation as soon as possible.
‘Many children who had places last year are not getting them this year, or tickets aren’t arriving on time. It’s added stress to parents students at a crucial time.
‘I’m confident following my discussions with the minister a resolution is on the way.’
Deputy O’Sullivan has also raised the issue of ongoing delays in issuing article 60 licences for contractors with An Garda Síochána.
Article 60 licences are used by contractors who have a specific role in transporting children with special needs.
‘I’ve been in contact with the guards to ensure these are being issued straight away,’ Deputy O’Sullivan said.