Jennifer Whitmore TD

The planned expansion of the School Transport Scheme must be rolled out in tandem with a major overhaul of the system, according to Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore.

Deputy Whitmore, who is the party’s spokesperson on children, said:

“According to reports over the weekend, Minister for Education Norma Foley is working on an expansion of the scheme. A long-delayed review is set to recommend that thousands of students who live closer to their schools will be eligible for a bus place instead of having to apply for concessionary tickets.

“While this is very welcome news for many families, it must be remembered that there are still children waiting on a promised school bus service for the 2023/24 term that commenced last August.

“Unfortunately, there is every reason to fear that hundreds of families will face a repeat of last year’s school transport debacle when the new term begins this autumn.

“In some rural areas, including my own Wicklow constituency and neighbouring Kildare, problems that marked the start of the last academic term – including driver shortages, last minute cancellations and promised bus routes that never materialised – still persist.

“With applications to the School Transport Scheme set to open at the end of this month, the Minister has so far failed to outline what – or if – additional measures have been put in place to prevent a repeat of these issues.

“I have repeatedly called for the establishment of a new national school bus service that is removed from the control of the Department of Education and is instead placed under the remit of the Department of Transport. There should also be a major recruitment drive to attract part-time drivers in rural areas.

“This issue has caused no end of disruption and stress for parents, some of whom have had to take time out of their annual leave – or even quit their jobs – so they can drive their children to school. This is also putting more cars out onto our roads when we are trying to meet our climate action targets.

“While I am in favour of expanding the School Transport Scheme to more families, this must happen in tandem with systemic reform of how it currently operates.”

February 19, 2024

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