The purpose of my Department's School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.
Children are eligible for school transport where they satisfy the distance criterion and are attending their nearest national school or post primary centre, having regard to ethos and language. School transport is a very significant national operation involving about 42 million journeys and over 82 million kilometres on 6,000 routes every school year. This service is delivered using a mix of Bus Éireann, both school transport and road passenger vehicles, private contractor vehicles including private operator scheduled services, and Dublin Bus, Irish Rail, DART and LUAS where practical. In the region of 115,000 children avail of school transport services throughout the school year including more than 8,000 children with special educational needs.
The terms of the scheme are applied equitably on a national basis. Children who are eligible for school transport and who hold valid Medical Cards (GMS Scheme) travel free on school transport services.
The 2013 allocation to my Department for the provision of School Transport is almost €170m. Any proposal to reduce the qualifying distance for establishing eligibility or to provide a free school bus service as suggested by the Deputy would significantly increase operating costs. For this reason, it is not intended to change the current eligibility criteria for school transport services.