School Transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the 2019/20 school year over 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres at a cost of over €219m in 2019.
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.
School Transport Scheme services for the current school year commenced operation on the 26th August 2020. All children who are eligible for school transport and who completed the application and payment process on time have been accommodated on transport services for the 2020/2021 school year where such services are in operation.
Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis and are facilitated where spare seats exist after eligible children have been accommodated. Where the number of ineligible children exceeds the number of spare seats available Bus Éireann allocates tickets using an agreed selection process.
Based on the public health advice published in early July, my Department has been planning for School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year to fully operate, but with additional measures and hygiene requirements in place. The Department has been engaging intensively with Bus Éireann in regard to the logistics for the safe operation of School Transport Scheme services for the 2020/2021 school year. Updated health advice was received from NPHET on the 18th August, which impacts on the operation of post-primary school transport services. This advice stated that for secondary school students on school transport, strict distancing should be ensured in line with that on public transport along with the wearing of face coverings.
My Department is engaging with Bus Éireann in respect of these plans, to implement measures so that any services that can operate from the start of the school year at 50% capacity will do so and over the coming period all other post-primary transport services will be re-organised and additional services will be provided as required to allow for physical distancing. In addition, Bus Éireann invited applications from operators who wish to be considered for the provision of additional post-primary services that may be required.
Applications/payments for primary seats will be considered and tickets may be allocated on existing services where capacity remains. Applications/payments for post-primary seats completed or made after the closing date for payment of 4th August 2020 will be only considered when 50% capacity, required by new Covid-19 public health guidelines, is achieved on each route. The timeframe for this will vary from route to route and may take a number of weeks to complete.
In the event of not securing a ticket where no capacity exists, or on cancellation, a full refund will be issued.