The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, on whose behalf I am answering this question, has been very open with Deputies. He has met Deputies who have suggestions and concerns. I suppose I need to outline the position. It is a significant operation. It is managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. Some 115,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are transported in 4,500 vehicles to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country each day. These vehicles cover approximately 100 million km each year. This service was provided at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017. The purpose of the 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 generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school. I think the relevant distance at primary level is 3.2 km and at secondary level is 4.8 km. It is important to note that all eligible children are accommodated under the terms of the scheme.
Arising from commitments in the programme for Government, a review of the concessionary charges and rules element of the school transport scheme has been undertaken. The review, which was published in December 2016, made recommendations on the charges and the rules elements of the concessionary school transport scheme. The recommended course of action in respect of the charges for concessionary school transport was to continue with the current policy of imposing charges in respect of those in receipt of concessionary places. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, agreed with this recommendation on the basis that those applying for concessionary transport are making a conscious decision to do so, understand that they are not eligible for school transport and understand the implications of this choice at the time of application. The report also recommended that the number of concessionary places should be reduced in line with the rules introduced in 2012 on a phased basis. Previous plans to advance this option were put on hold, pending the completion of the review. After considering the review and discussing the matter with the cross-party working group which was established to feed into the review, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, decided there should be no planned programme of downsizing in the coming years, other than in line with normal operational decisions under the current scheme. The terms of the school transport scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.