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1,600 drivers, more buses and 650 bus escorts: €137m spend gets green light so school transport can run at 50% capacity

Over 97,600 children are being transported daily to school.

Public health advice is school buses should operate at 50% capacity.
Public health advice is school buses should operate at 50% capacity.
Image: Leah Farrell

GOVERNMENT HAS AGREED to spend between €87 to €135 million hiring an additional 1,600 school bus drivers, buying new vehicles and employing 650 bus escorts in order to comply with social distancing advice.

Public health advice received shortly before schools reopened this month advised that the post-primary scheme should run at 50% capacity.

While a government spokesperson said this was put in place where possible over the last number of weeks, Bus Eireann was also tasked with carrying out a detailed analysis of the resources required to fully implement the advice on all routes.

Currently there are 1,600 school bus routes in operation around the country.

Over 97,600 children are being transported daily to school on the Primary and Post-Primary Transport Schemes. In addition, 14,500 children with special needs are being transported daily to school.

Government today agreed to provide the necessary funding “to ensure that full implementation of the public health recommendation”.

In order to adhere to the current public health advice, Bus Éireann is implementing different methods of providing extra capacity with existing operators, including upgrading vehicles, additional school runs and additional vehicles being provided.

Where additional services will need to be procured, Bus Éireann has put in place a a list of other operators that are willing to provide additional services where required.

“The ability to implement physical distancing on all services is critically dependent upon the ability to source these additional resources,” said a government spokesperson.

A number of TDs have highlighted issues with the operation of the school transport scheme during the pandemic.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke has criticised the government in recent weeks, stating that thousands of families have been left with no transport options for their children.

He claimed there are 6,120 fewer children being accommodated on school transport this year compared to last.

“Demand has remained. Supply has disappeared,” he said last week.

Thousands of other children, who would normally secure a place on buses on the concessionary ticket scheme, have also been left without a place this year.

“Covid-19 is a factor, but Government’s complete failure to plan, to prepare and to deliver are a larger factor,” said O’Rourke. He said an additional burden has been placed on families who are trying to juggle work, family life and other commitments at this challenging time and they are getting ignored by the system.

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