School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.
Currently over 116,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are being transported in over 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017.
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 generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school. 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 was undertaken.
The review was published in December 2016 and made recommendations on both the charges and the rules element of concessionary school transport.
With regard to the charges for concessionary school transport the recommended course of action was to continue with the current position whereby charges remain in place for those in receipt of concessionary places. I 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.
However upon consideration of the review and following discussions with the Cross Party Working Group which I established to feed into the review, I decided that there should be no planned programme of downsizing in the coming years except in line with normal operational decisions within the current scheme.
The terms of the School Transport Scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.