Wednesday, 14 October 2020
Department of Education and Skills
65. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the school transport scheme; if she will report on the expected time frame for the recommended 50% capacity to be fully operational across the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30113/20]
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.
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. The Department has also been engaging with Bus Éireann on the logistics involved with the rolling implementation of measures on post-primary services as required to provide physical distancing, in line with those required on public transport, aligned to the public health advice received shortly before schools reopened which advised that the post-primary scheme should run at 50% capacity.
The implementation of 50% capacity has been put in place where possible over the last number of weeks, while Bus Éireann has been carrying out a detailed analysis of the resources required to fully implement the advice on all routes. Over the coming weeks, Bus Eireann will be implementing 50% capacity on a rolling basis as soon as it is possible to do so on each individual route.
Government has agreed to provide the necessary funding to ensure that full implementation of the public health recommendation of running buses for post-primary children is achieved as quickly as possible on the post-primary scheme and on the special educational needs scheme for post-primary children. As well as additional funding, significant numbers of additional vehicles, drivers and bus escorts will be required. Bus Éireann is implementing different means of providing extra capacity with existing operators, including upgrading vehicles, additional runs or additional vehicles being provided. Where additional services will need to be procured, Bus Éireann has put in place a framework of operators that are willing to provide additional services where required.
An analysis has been conducted to determine what is required to fully implement all post-primary school services to operate at 50% capacity. The estimated full year cost to operate all services at 50% capacity is between €87m and €135m with an estimated requirement for an additional 1,600 drivers and vehicles and 650 additional School Bus Escorts.
Further detailed planning is being done through the local offices on a route by route basis to plan appropriate measures to provide the additional capacity required. The requirement to operate at 50% capacity will be implemented on a rolling basis as quickly as possible.