I thank the Deputy for his question. As I have said on a number of occasions, school transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of my Department. In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 117,500 children, including 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in 5,000 vehicles every day to primary and post-primary schools at a cost running at more than €200 million in 2018.
Growth in the number of children availing of special educational needs transport is a notable development in recent years. The cost of special educational needs transport has grown consistently from some €58 million in 2012 to more than €106 million in 2018. School transport provision for children with special educational needs now accounts for more than 50% of the total cost of the scheme despite catering for some 12% of the overall number of children transported.
The purpose of the 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 as determined by the Department in conjunction with Bus Éireann, having regard to the ethos and the language.
All children who are eligible for school transport and who completed the application process on time have been accommodated on school transport services for the 2019-2020 school year and, in that respect, no serious difficulties have arisen for those who are eligible for school transport. Children who are not eligible for school transport, as the Deputy will be aware, may apply for transport on a concessionary basis and are facilitated where spare seats exit.
I recently sanctioned an additional €1 million for the school transport budget to allow for temporary alleviation measures to increase temporarily the capacity for concessionary seats on the post-primary transport scheme for the 2019-2020 school year. I also announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to ensuring funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. The terms of reference and scope of the review are being considered by my officials and it is expected a cross-departmental steering group led by my Department will be established. I hope to meet representatives from all parties in the Dáil to talk about what we plan to do in the review of the scheme.