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.
Based on the public health advice published in early July, my Department has been planning for School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place. 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. Funding has been provided to private transport providers who are contracted by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department to operate the School Transport Scheme services i n order to meet these requirements.
Updated health advice was received from NPHET on 18 August, which impacts on the operation of post-primary school transport services. This advice stated that for secondary school students on school transport, strict distancing should be ensured in line with that on public transport along with the wearing of face coverings.
The Department is engaging with Bus Éireann in respect of these plans, in order to implement measures so that any services that can operate from the start of the school year at 50% capacity will do so and over the coming period all other post-primary transport services will be re-organised and additional services will be provided as required to allow for physical distancing.
Bus Éireann has recently invited applications from operators who wish to be considered for the provision of additional post-primary services that may be required. These services are required to cater for additional capacity in light of the most recent public health advice and will continue to be required while that advice remains in place. The general terms and conditions for these contracts will be in line with what Bus Éireann currently hold with existing school transport contractors.
Commercial contractors who provide transport for schools on a private hire or commercial basis but who are not contracted by Bus Éireann to operate on the Department’s School Transport Scheme do not fall under the remit of the Department of Education. However, the Department has reminded schools and other stakeholders that public health advice is best practice on these services also.