Tipperary TD Michael Lowry seeks 'immediate solution' on school bus issue
Deputy Michael Lowry has called for immediate action to ensure that all children are provided with transport to school as a myriad of issues unfold for families across the country.
While welcoming the fact that children have returned to school, Deputy Lowry says that a significant number of families have been left in confusion and despair over the current debacle with the provision of school transport, with many children being left without any form of school transport.
The Deputy has contacted the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, and Bus Eireann seeking urgent solutions to the problems and has particularly highlighted three of the situations that parents and students are currently faced with as they try to get settled into their "new normal" school lives.
Under social distancing guidelines, buses provided by Bus Eireann can no longer accommodate the same numbers as they once could. Prior to the necessity to introduce Covid restrictions there were 90 Bus Eireann operated school buses providing services across Tipperary. However, in order to facilitate the new guidelines, an additional 40 buses are needed. These additional buses are needed immediately and plans for their provision should have been in place prior to the schools reopening as there was sufficient time to do so, states Deputy Lowry.
Deputy Lowry also highlights the problems that parent encountered with their applications to avail of school transport for the current school year. Parents were advised to apply for a school transport ticket prior to April 27 with the agreement that a minimum of 50% of the payment be made for the service on or before August 4. When parents tried to access the Bus Eireann portal to make this payment, they discovered it has been closed with the reason cited as "due to vital maintenance". This left parents unable to make a payment within the specified time and, in turn, left their children without a valid bus ticket.
Parents of students who, heretofore, had availed of a concessionary bus ticket, are also encountering major difficulties this school year. Under the school transport rules, students are entitled to a ticket for the school located nearest to them, but concessions have always been made where possible to facilitate students who require transport to a different school. This year such "concessionary tickets" are not available to students, which leaves them without any form of school transport to get to their schools.
In addition to calling for the immediate provision of the additional buses required, Deputy Lowry is also seeking to have a €25 weekly payment made available to parents and guardians who need to drive their children to school themselves due to lack of transport. He says that this payment now needs to be made available to help cover the costs to transport concessionary students as well as students who are within the required distance of their school but who do not have school transport at this time.
"These issues need to be addressed urgently," says Deputy Lowry. "Schools have reopened and no child can be left on the side of the road without a safe form of transport to school."