Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Questions (224)

Michael Fitzmaurice


224. Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason a student (details supplied) is being denied an exemption to the cost of the school transport scheme despite holding a medical card; the reason they are not allowed to travel on the bus under an exemption to a secondary school in Athlone in view of the fact that the bus route is close to their home; if the decision by Bus Éireann will be overruled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29322/19]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually. The purpose of the scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

Under the terms of the Post-Primary School Transport Scheme, children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8 kilometres from and are attending their nearest education centre as determined by the Department of Education/Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.

Children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application process on time are accommodated on school transport services where such services are in operation. Children who are eligible for school transport but for whom no service is available may be offered the Remote Area Grant towards the cost of making private transport arrangements.

Children who are not eligible for school transport, but who complete the application process on time, are considered for spare seats that may exist after eligible children have been facilitated; such seats are referred to as concessionary seats. Where the number of applications from ineligible children exceeds the number of spare seats available, tickets are allocated using an agreed selection process. Only children who are eligible for school transport and who hold valid Medical Cards are exempt from paying the annual charge.

Bus Éireann has advised that the child in question is not eligible for school transport as she is not attending her nearest school and the family should liaise with their local Bus Éireann office if they wish to enquire about the availability of school transport on a concessionary basis for the 2019/20 school year.

Changes to the school transport scheme were announced in Budget 2011, derived from recommendations in the Value for Money Review of the School Transport Scheme (published March 2011). One of the changes at post primary the cessation of the long standing catchment boundary area system to determine eligibility.  Existing children at that time who were eligible for school transport, and met the distance criteria, retained their transport eligibility for the duration of their schooling, provided their circumstances did not change. Bus Éireann has confirmed that the siblings of the child referred to were eligible under the pre-2012 eligibility criteria.

The terms of the School Transport Schemes are applied equitably on a national basis.