My Department is not aware of any widespread dissatisfaction with the condition of the school transport fleet. There are approximately 2,900 vehicles used in the school transport fleet. Around 2,300 of these are provided by private contractors and the balance by Bus Éireann. All vehicles operating under the school transport scheme are required to meet the statutory regulations as laid down by the Department of Transport. Where vehicles have more than eight adult seats and are more than one year old, they are required to pass that Department's annual road worthiness test.
Contractors employed by Bus Éireann to provide services under the school transport scheme must satisfy strict criteria and must hold a road passenger operator's licence, where their vehicle has more than eight adult seats. Vehicles nominated for use under the scheme must be suitable for the conveyance of school children and must have complete and current documentation in respect of both buses and drivers as required by law.
The vehicles have to be kept and maintained in a safe and roadworthy condition and to comply in all respects with the Road Traffic Acts. The loading on all school buses is determined by the relevant sections of the road traffic regulations — construction, equipment and use of vehicles, which are laid down by the Department of Transport. Under public service vehicle regulations, the licensed carrying capacity of all vehicles engaged in school transport is based on a ratio of three pupils for every two adult seats. Under existing regulations, the wearing of passenger seat belts is not compulsory in buses, including those operated under the school transport scheme.
Bus Éireann, which operates the service on behalf of my Department places special emphasis on safety and, to this end, has a wide range of checking procedures in place to ensure a safe and reliable service. These are reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that standards are maintained.
Bus Éireann's policy of continuous fleet replacement facilitates improvement in the quality of vehicles used in the operation of the school transport scheme. Almost 300 more modern buses have replaced older buses in the past three years, producing an improvement in the age profile and quality of the school bus fleet as a result.