Thursday, 17 September 2020
Department of Education and Skills
129. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills when a school transport scheme will be completed by her Department that takes Covid-19 social distancing into account for post-primary students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24613/20]
School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.
Based on the public health advice published in early July, my Department has been planning for School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place. The Department has been engaging intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year.
Updated health advice was received from NPHET on the 18th August, which impacts on the operation of post-primary school transport services. This advice stated that for secondary school students on school transport, strict distancing should be ensured in line with that on public transport along with the wearing of face coverings.
My Department is engaging with Bus Éireann in respect of these plans, to implement measures so that any services that can operate from the start of the school year at 50% capacity will do so and over the coming period all other post-primary transport services will be re-organised and additional services will be provided as required to allow for physical distancing. The timeframe for implementation
will vary from route to route.
Bus Éireann is conducting a full assessment to see where re-organisation or re-scheduling of services is possible. In addition, Bus Éireann has recently invited applications from operators who wish to be considered for the provision of additional post-primary services that may be required.
As of the 11th September 2020 there were 2206 mainstream Post Primary routes in operation. 20% of these routes are operating at 50% capacity while in the region of 52% of SEN post-primary services are operating at 50% capacity with planning being undertaken by Bus Éireann to implement the remaining routes on a rolling basis. This process will take into account procurement guidelines and compliance with driver vetting and safety procedures consistent with the operation of school transport services.