Thursday, 16 November 2023
Department of Education and Skills
135. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if provision will be made to enable persons aged 70 years and over, subject to appropriate medical checks, to drive public service vehicles and vehicles employed on State contracts as difficulties have arisen in many areas with shortage of qualified drivers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50453/23]
The School Transport Scheme is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2022/2023 school year, over 149,000 children, including over 18,000 children with special educational needs, were transported on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country.
In addition, school transport scheme services were provided for over 5,400 children who have arrived to Ireland from Ukraine.
The total cost of the scheme in 2022 was €338.9m.
Over 134,000 tickets have issued for the 2023/2024 school year which is an increase of 12% when compared with the start of the 2022/2023 school year. The number of tickets issued so far has already exceeded the total number of tickets issued in the 2022/23 school year. There has been an overall increase in both applications and tickets issued for the 2023/2024 school year in comparison to the 2022/2023 school year.
While over 90% of services are contracted locally, Bus Éireann apply stringent assessments of each individual driver on over 7,000 school routes. This includes vetting and background checks.
It is Bus Éireann company policy that normal retirement age for all Bus Éireann staff is currently 66 years. However, Bus Éireann part-time school bus drivers and drivers nominated by private operators who operate service as part of the School Transport Scheme may continue to perform in the role provided they hold the requisite license and satisfy an annual medical examination until they retire at age 70. This policy and criteria is applied to all drivers who provide school transport services on behalf of Bus Éireann equally.
The age limit on school bus drivers was increased to 70 years a number of years ago. While Bus Éireann have informed the Department there is no plan to increase the age limit further at this time, the matter will continue to be kept under review.