Thursday, 17 November 2022
Department of Education and Skills
211. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the reason that persons with e-mail addresses (details supplied) were not issued with emails to confirm their registration for a bus ticket in July 2022; if she intends instructing Bus Éireann to issue these applicants with bus tickets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57137/22]
212. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will request Bus Éireann to issue school bus tickets to late applicants who would otherwise have been eligible for school transport in view of the fact that the Bus Éireann website was down for reprogramming earlier in 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57143/22]
213. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if there are any outstanding applications with her Department from Bus Éireann for approval of either extra or larger buses for school transport in order to meet the demand; if there are applications outstanding; the details of the applications; when the applications are likely to be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57144/22]
214. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if it is intended to reduce the distance that a student has to reside from a primary and secondary school in order to qualify for school transport for the 2023-2024 school year and onwards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57145/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 211, 212, 213 and 214 together.
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. In the last school year over 121,400 children, including over 15,500 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country at a cost of over €289m in 2021.
In July 2022, Government announced funding for the waiving of school transport scheme fees for the coming school year as part of a wider package of cost of living measures.
Ticket registration for the 2022/23 school year closed on 29 July by which time almost 130,000 applications/registrations were received for mainstream school transport. This figure includes 44,299 new applications as well as roll-overs from the previous school year.
All children who are eligible for school transport and who have completed the application process on time are accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation. In addition, pending completion of the outcome of the full review of the School Transport Scheme, Temporary Alleviation Measures at post-primary level have continued for the 2022/2023 school year.
Under these measures, transport is provided for post-primary pupils who are eligible for transport to their nearest school and are attending their second nearest school and who applied by the 29th April and registered for a ticket by the 29th July.
As part of the budgetary process, some additional funding has been approved for the scheme which has allowed officials in the Department of Education, in consultation with Bus Éireann, to consider and evaluate where additional capacity may be available. Bus Éireann have been prioritising areas where there were “on time concessionary pupils” who had tickets previously.
It is important to stress that this is subject to capacity considerations. Constraints in sourcing vehicles and drivers in certain areas of the country may also mean that it may take a number of weeks to explore solutions for additional capacity.
Officials in School Transport Section liaise with Bus Éireann on a daily basis in relation to the operation of the School Transport Scheme, this includes requests for sanction for additional capacity.
A strong emphasis is placed on advertising the closing date through both website and social media platforms. Bus Éireann advertised the closing date through their website and social media platforms. The closing date was also advertised through the Department of Education, Public Representatives and other forms of media channels.
The email notifications that are issued are intended as a reminder but are not required for a ticket request to be made. Any application completed after this date is a ‘late application’ and therefore, many school transport services are already operating at full capacity. Late applications will only be assessed after all “on time” applications have been processed and there can be no guarantee of places for late applicants.
The Department has undertaken a review of the School Transport Scheme.
The review is being conducted with a view to examining the current scheme and how it currently operates, its broader effectiveness and sustainability and that it adequately supports the provision of services to students and their families.
The review encompasses the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Educational Needs and the Primary and Post-Primary School Transport Schemes in terms of how each element of the schemes currently operate, to include eligibility criteria, trends, costs and cost drivers, and overall effectiveness in meeting the objectives of the schemes. The review will also examine the potential for integration of different strands of the scheme and a more co-ordinated approach with other Government Departments that also use transport services.
Wider considerations relating to operation of the scheme are taking place in the current phase of the review which is now underway. The Steering Group will continue to report to me on an interim basis as the review progresses, with a view to presenting a final report with recommendations on the future operation of the Department’s School Transport Scheme.