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Bus Eireann operates the school bus system. Alamy Stock Photo
norma foley

Education Minister unveils plans for major overhaul of school bus system beginning in 2025

The review features a number of recommendations on how to make bus services available to more school children.

THE MINISTER FOR Education has published a report today detailing plans for a significant expansion of school bus services beginning in September 2025.  

At a press conference in Dublin this afternoon, Minister Norma Foley said the School Transport 2030 review – which began in 2021 – was “born of intensive consultation” and described it as a “significant overhaul” that would help more parents and guardians deal with cost-of-living challenges. 

“It’s a very significant moment, because this is the first time since 1967 that we have seen such a significant overhaul and review of the school transport system,” Foley said. 

Around 161,000 pupils currently travel to school using the School Transport Scheme and that number is set to grow by around 100,000 students over the course of six years. Bus Éireann operates the scheme on behalf of the Department of Education. 

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Foley’s handling of the school bus scheme has been the subject of criticism from opposition politicians, with the starting date for the proposed changes being a point of frustration for many.

“While this all sounds great in theory, it must be remembered that there are still children waiting on a promised school bus service for the term that commenced last August,” said Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore, adding that “it is clear that difficulties with the scheme, including driver and bus shortages, remain”. 

Whitmore also noted that the planned changes “won’t be in place during the lifetime of this Government”. 

Foley also faced criticism for the apparent delay in publishing the findings of the report, especially from Fine Gael senator Tim Lombard, who said back in mid-January that the report had been completed but it was “still unacceptable that the findings of this report have yet to be released”.

Asked why the plan was not due to come into effect during the next school year, Foley said that the changes are going to be introduced in stages and that two pilot programmes will be carried out in the meantime, beginning in September this year. 

The review features a number of recommendations on how to make bus services available to more school children, including reducing distance requirements so that children who live closer to school can qualify for the service. 

Foley said that one of the pilot programmes will focus on integrating the school bus network with other forms of public transport. The second will look at the reduced distance criteria. 

“So it is a cumulative approach over the next six years,” she said, describing the project as “an enormous body of work”.

“So I think we take it step by step. There will be great learnings from the first two pilots, which will run in a number of places around the country.”

The review also recommends eliminating the requirement for students to attend their nearest school in order to give students and parents greater choice and flexibility.  However, this is only where there are existing bus routes to use or where there is sufficient parental demand for a new route (10 pupils or more). 

Under the current rules, a primary school pupil must live at least 3.2 km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme. This will go to 2km and then 1km, depending on funding.

A post-primary school pupil must live at least 4.8km from their school to qualify for a bus place under the school transport scheme. This will go to 2km, depending on funding. 

Prior to the cost-of-living crisis, the annual school transport scheme fees were €100 for primary students and €350 for secondary school students, and the cap was €650 per family.

However, the minister waived fees for a year and then brought them in at a lower rate for the current school year. The 2023-2024 fee for a primary school child is €50 and for a post- primary school child is €75. The maximum fee for a family is €125.

The same fee structure will be kept in place for the 2024-2025 school year.

The hiring of bus drivers has been an ongoing challenge, with Foley saying in August that her department was “working through those issues”.

Parents have also complained that Bus Eireann was making the application process highly stressful and confusing.

Foley also said that labour shortages are not unique to her department due to high employment levels.  

“We’re finding it in lots of other sectors as well, in terms of, you know, country being at near full employment. So there are difficulties in attracting people in,” she said. 

When asked if the age limit for drivers – currently 70 – might be extended in order to attract more applicants, Foley said that Transport Minister Eamon Ryan would be commissioning a report to look at that possibility. 

According to the review published today, the annual cost of the School Transport Scheme will increase from €444 million to €672 million by 2030.

Also included in the report is a plan to increase the special transport grant, which is available for families with children who have special needs and prefer to travel by car. 

It also committed to reviewing the pay and conditions for school bus escorts, who chaperone children with special needs in mini-buses or taxis. 

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