Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has raised concerns that the Department of Education is rolling out a cunning plan to finish off school transport.
The elected representative for the Roscommon-Galway constituency has been speaking to parents and operators of bus services throughout his constituency since last week’s announcement by the Minister of Education, Norma Foley.
The implications of this announcement will be felt far and wide. And either it is a cunning plan to finish off school transport or just another impulsive decision by this Government without any considerations for the wider impact that it could have, according to Fitzmaurice.
He said: “First of all, they are talking about a requirement for an extra 1,600 buses. Having spoken to people in the industry, it is very questionable whether they are even there at the moment.
“As well as that, many bus companies are struggling to find drivers to man the buses that they have – due to the long lay-offs caused by Covid-19 forcing their previous drivers to find alternative work.
“One would have to wonder whether this is a cunning plan to further reduce the number of students availing of discretionary school transport services.
“The minister also revealed that parents would be compensated if they decided to drop their children to school, rather than opting for the bus service.
“But what happens if the numbers availing of the bus then drop below the minimum threshold of 10? Will the bus then be cancelled?
“This raises huge concerns, as it could then prove very difficult to reinstate the service. Is this evidence of further underhanded tactics by the department or just a lack of understanding of the implications its decisions could have?
“Meanwhile, what happens in an area where parents came together without any financial assistance to organise a private bus company to collect their children?
“Will they be expected to pay double or will those parents be compensated?”
The lack of clarity around all of these issues is leading to major frustrations, Fitzmaurice added.
Continuing, he said: “I contacted the school transport section of Bus Eireann at the beginning of August and was informed that it envisaged that no additional buses would be required for the coming school year.
“Less than 2 weeks later, the minister is making an announcement saying that 1,600 extra buses will be needed. The minister’s announcement last week has led to chaos in the lead up to schools reopening.
“I believe the Minister of Transport, Eamon Ryan, needs to get involved in this situation. The Green Party continuously preaches about the need to reduce emissions by availing of public transport etc.
“We cannot allow the number of students who avail of discretionary school transport to be reduced or for the number of bus routes to decrease because of last week’s decision.
“Minister Ryan needs to stamp his authority on this matter.”
Concluding: “The bottom line is, if we don’t have enough additional buses or drivers to facilitate the plan revealed by Minister Foley, how are kids going to get to school?
“One of the key points of reopening schools and childcare services was to allow the workforce to get back to work. If parents are forced to drop and collect their children from school because of inadequate bus numbers, how are they expected to hold down a job as well?
“A significant number of questions remain unanswered and swift action needs to be taken to deal with the issues I have raised,” he said.
Michael Fitzmaurice – 086-1914565