Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Department of Education and Skills
160. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the safety standards of his Department regarding which types and years of models of buses used to deliver school transport services including irregular transport for school trips and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9021/19]
I propose to answer Questions Nos. 158 to 160, inclusive, together.
School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually. The safety of children and those on board school transport vehicles is the number one priority for the Department and Bus Éireann.
The school transport fleet is made up of both Contractors Vehicles and Bus Éireann vehicles. Bus Éireann procures vehicles to operate school transport services on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. The categories of vehicles procured are as follows:
- Taxi – up to 8 seats
- Minibus – 9 to 18 seats
- Medium bus – 19 – 34 seats
- Large bus – 35 + seats
The vehicle sourced for any given route is dependent on the route travelled, the number of pupils requiring transport, and the individual requirements of the child, as in the case with transport for children with Special Educational needs.
Contracts for School Transport Services are awarded based on the most economically advantageous tender. The most economically advantageous tender is evaluated based on the weighted criteria set out in the Conditions of Tendering document. A total of 1000 marks (100%) is available. The Quality/Price ratio is 40:60. A minimum quality threshold of 60% applies to each of the quality criteria. Only tenders which meet each Minimum Quality Threshold will be evaluated on Price. Scoring tables are provided in the Conditions of Tendering document with details on how marks are awarded for each of the quality criteria.
In regard to safety, in order to be considered roadworthy a bus must pass an annual Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT), conducted under the auspices of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) at approved test centres around the country. Bus Éireann school transport providers are contractually obliged to ensure that their vehicle has an up to date roadworthiness certificate issued by an RSA accredited test centre when a contract is signed. The contractor is obliged to keep their roadworthiness certificate current and up to date at all times and provide Bus Éireann with evidence of this. All school buses in service - procured by Bus Éireann to provide services under the School Transport Scheme - that are subject to roadside inspections must have current roadworthiness certification at the time of inspection.
A detailed contract is put in place for all contracted services – which includes numerous safety-related items. There is a strict process in place before any vehicle or driver is added to the approved list for provision of services under the School Transport Scheme. Required documentation is checked and copies are held by Bus Éireann offices. This documentation includes insurance and insurance indemnity, valid Road Passenger Transport Operator Licence (with required vehicles added), valid Certificate of Roadworthiness (CRW), appropriate valid Public Service Vehicle licence (large/small) (PSV) and evidence of Tax Clearance. Bus Éireann contracts also include a stipulation that requires all contractors to have planned maintenance programmes, with checking intervals of not more than six weeks.
Every Contractor is also responsible as an individual bus operator, licensed by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, to ensure they comply with legislation in all respects.
In addition to statutory requirements, Bus Éireann arranges for additional sample auditing of contractors vehicles operating under the Scheme, throughout the year. These additional quality assurance checks are carried out by independent vehicle inspection auditors, on both a targeted and random basis. Almost one in five buses contracted to the School Transport Scheme are audited under these quality assurance checks, which are designed to monitor the condition and roadworthiness status of each vehicle checked. Vehicles that fall short of the standards required during the audits are immediately withdrawn from further service until all identified issues are rectified by the contractor. If contractors are found not to have carried out the required improvements to their fleet and systems, they face penalties up to and including termination of contract.
Bus Éireann vehicles are brought into the garage every six weeks for a full maintenance checks.