Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business


10:30 am

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the publication yesterday of the school transport 2030 review of the school transport scheme - phase 3 report by the Minster, Deputy Foley. I call for a debate on this matter. There are some positive issues, some I still query and others which have not been dealt with at all in this report.

First, there is talk that eligibility will no longer be judged by the nearest school criteria. That is certainly a welcome change. The need for an annual ticket charge was proven when the fees were scrapped the year before last, which led to a huge influx of people. It was well-intentioned but I do not think it worked or was the right approach. That is welcome.

The reduction of the eligibility down to 1 km and 2 km for primary and post-primary schools, respectively, is a positive for those who will benefit but it will raise a whole new cohort of people who will be just short by perhaps a few metres from the 1 km and 2 km limit. That will raise a new cohort of people who will be asking why the scheme cannot be extended to them and we should be conscious of that.

The other issue I wish to raise, which has not been addressed, is the age of drivers. This has been talked about on numerous occasions. Drivers have to give up school runs at the age of 70, yet they can continue to provide to do runs to sports clubs, swimming, rugby, GAA or to wherever. It does not make sense. If they were prohibited from driving a bus full stop, one could understand but obviously and thankfully they are not. They are fit and healthy and pass all of the medical tests, eyesight tests and so on. They should be given the option, if they so wish, to drive for Bus Éireann. That would alleviate many of the problems. Many of the problems we have experienced of late have been because of an inability to get drivers. It is not about eligibility or concessions but the fact there is not even a bus or a driver to bring students. That is a problem.

I know there is discussion about a recruitment campaign and new training incentives for bus drivers. That is all very positive but in the short term, to alleviate the issues from this September, there should be a little bit of leeway, even up to 71 or 72 years of age. That would provide a new cohort of drivers nationwide to solve those issues and even to provide relief. Bus drivers get sick.Suddenly, a driver is sick or out of work for a few weeks or even a month, no driver can be found and transport companies are scrambling to find drivers. We have seen that. Thankfully, some of the issues have been resolved but it has taken months. A bus route in Galway was off the road for four months and another is almost the same. I hope it will also be resolved in the coming days. I welcome the report and call for a debate.


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