‘Department is rolling out cunning plan to finish off school transport’ – Fitzmaurice

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has raised concerns that the Department of Education is rolling out a ‘cunning plan’ to finish off school transport.

The Roscommon-Galway TD said he has been speaking to parents and operators of bus services throughout his constituency since last week’s announcement by the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, that schools will reopen next week and that additional buses will be needed.

However, it is believed to be unlikely that these buses will be ready in time.

Deputy Fitzmaurice said the implications of this announcement will be “felt far and wide”.

“It either is a cunning plan to finish off school transport or just another impulsive decision by this government without any considerations for the wider impact that it could have,” he said.

“First of all, they are talking about a requirement for an extra 1,600 buses. Having spoken to people in the industry, it is very questionable whether they are even there at the moment.

As well as that, many bus companies are struggling to find drivers to man the buses that they have – due to the long lay-offs caused by Covid-19 forcing their previous drivers to find alternative work.

“One would have to wonder whether this is a cunning plan to further reduce the number of students availing of discretionary school transport services.”

Parents will be ‘compensated’

Deputy Fitzmaurice spoke of “huge concerns” over the threat that these plans may have for transport.

“The minister also revealed that parents would be compensated if they decided to drop their children to school, rather than opting for the bus service.

“What happens if the numbers availing of the bus then drop below the minimum threshold of 10? Will the bus then be cancelled?

This raises huge concerns, as it could then prove very difficult to reinstate the service.

“Is this evidence of further underhanded tactics by the department or just a lack of understanding of the implications its decisions could have?

“Meanwhile, what happens in an area where parents came together without any financial assistance to organise a private bus company to collect their children?

“Will they be expected to pay double or will those parents be compensated?

“The lack of clarity around all of these issues is leading to major frustrations.”

‘No additional buses would be required’

Fitzmaurice added that he had “contacted the school transport section of Bus Éireann at the beginning of August and was informed that it envisaged that no additional buses would be required for the coming school year”.

“Less than two weeks later, the minister is making an announcement saying that 1,600 extra buses will be needed.

The announcement last week has led to chaos in the lead up to schools reopening.

“I believe the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, needs to get involved in this situation as we cannot allow the number of students who avail of discretionary school transport to be reduced, or, for the number of bus routes to decrease because of last week’s decision,” Fitzmaurice concluded.