Tipperary TD backs 'outraged parents' following free school bus places decision
Parents across the county are bristling with anger as schools have reopened and many of their children have been left without school transport to get to their classrooms, according to Tipperary TD Michael Lowry.
"The Minister for Education clearly did not think this through when she made the grand gesture of waiving school transport fees for 2022/’23 to help parents cope with the rising cost of living," he said.
Deputy Lowry said that what had seemed like a gesture of goodwill had, instead, become an absolute nightmare for many parents whose children either no longer had a concessionary bus pass, or found themselves without a much-needed seat on the full school buses, despite being fully eligible for a place’
The Independent TD said that before making such a fanfare announcement, Minister Foley and her advisors should have closely examined what it would entail.
"Had they examined the existing capacity on school transport, it would have quickly become clear that this capacity would have to be significantly expanded before the schools reopened to make this promise a reality," he pointed out.
"Instead, the proverbial cart was put before the horse and the Minister has since discovered, seemingly to her surprise, that demand far outstrips supply for school transport. The result is that many pupils that had been travelling to school by bus on concessionary passes for several years are now left, quite literally, on the side of the road," said the Thurles-based TD.
Meanwhile, the Minister was only now engaging with Bus Eireann to procure additional buses and drivers. This was something that could not be done overnight and should have been in place before the schools reopened, said Deputy Lowry.
He said that the Minister should have paid heed to the warnings that there was a shortage of school bus drivers as a result of the "ridiculous ruling" that drivers of school buses must retire at 70 years of age.
"This issue was highlighted loud and clear by me in the Dail and is on the record for all to see. Considering that school bus drivers are often men and women who retired from full-time work and are happy to take up the part-time demand of driving a school bus, it makes no sense whatsoever to insist that they retire. This is particularly frustrating given that bus drivers over 70 years of age can continue to work in private bus hire and, not alone that, they can also work for State bodies," he said.
Deputy Lowry said that now there was a situation where unprecedented numbers had applied for school transport, with 130,000 applications made for the scheme this year, with a third of those coming from first-time applicants.
"At the start of this week, as school began to reopen, just 115,000 tickets had been issued according to Bus Eireann. They have been fielding angry calls from parents about a situation that has not been of their making," he said.
Deputy Lowry said that parents cannot be blamed for their outraged reaction, especially those whose children had travelled on the school bus for several years and now no longer had a place. Working parents had been forced to take time off work to drive their children to school, while those without transport had to enlist the help of neighbours, family and, in some cases, hire taxis.
"So much for the Minister’s promise of savings of up to €500 per family per year by opening up the Scheme to all. This situation must be addressed immediately. Minister Foley must step up to the plate and take whatever action is required to correct the chaos her decision has caused. The Minister must accept that her actions have created this debacle and that it is her urgent duty to rectify it," said Deputy Lowry.
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