Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Education Minister to seriously examine the criteria for access to the School Transport Scheme ahead of the beginning of the new school year in August.
Deputy Smith again raised the issue in the Dáil, outlining a series of problems which have arisen in recent years, particularly affecting families in rural and isolated areas.
“While I appreciate that difficulties can arise with any general scheme that is dealing with rural areas, there needs to be an element of flexibility when it comes to our school transport service. Many families chose either to move to a particular area because of family connections or because they grew up in a certain parish and want to stay there. Those who have set up home in these areas would have been conscious of transport links to local schools, but because of recent changes in the administration of the School Transport Scheme, some students are no longer eligible for a place on their school bus”, explained Deputy Smith.
“I have also been dealing with cases where older siblings were granted a place on their school bus but younger siblings are only being granted a place if they go to a different school – this is a ridiculous situation – there has to be some flexibility in these cases. Bus Éireann personnel, in delivering the service, should be allowed some flexibility by the Department in dealing with local issues.
“The use of Google maps in the online application process has resulted in distances being measured using roads that are not capable of carrying cars, let alone school buses. It is in this context that I’m arguing for greater flexibility for families. If older children have attended one school, younger ones should not be forced to go to another school to qualify for a school bus place.
“I fully appreciate that a scheme cannot be designed to suit every family but previous attendance patterns need to be taken into account. By and large, all the difficulties being encountered by these families could be ironed out in a few years.
“I am calling on Ministers Bruton and Halligan to adopt a common sense approach to this issue and to make use of the local knowledge available rather than relying solely on a centralised online process”.