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EU tells Ireland: You must follow rules for Bus Éireann scheme

Compensation under the School Transport Scheme is not in line with current EU rules.

Rural school bus in Co Mayo. (File)
Rural school bus in Co Mayo. (File)
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Updated 3.44 pm

THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION has ruled that the Ireland must reform compensation arrangements paid to Bus Éireann for bringing rural children to school.

A commission investigation has found that in its current form the School Transport Scheme is not compatible with EU rules.

The scheme was agreed decades before these rules came into force so the compensation will not need to be refunded, nevertheless it will now have to be changed.

The commission has directed that Ireland look at options for ending them with Bus Éireann stating that they “look forward to assisting the state in their dialogue with the Commission about this matter”.

The commission began looking into the matter in 2007 after a complaint was made by a group representing private bus operators in Ireland.

The probe also looked at a number of other measures including annual payments made to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann for the upgrading of infrastructure.

A third issue under consideration related to grants paid for disability awareness training for drivers between 2001 and 2003.

In a decision released today the commission notes that, the infrastructure grants constituted “existing aid” because the legal basis upon which they were paid pre-dated the opening of the EU bus sector to competition in 1995.

The grants themselves were also discontinued in 2009.

But on the issue of the School Transport Scheme the commission has decided Ireland must take action. Under arrangements with the state, Bus Éireann  were compensated for operating the scheme which saw rural schoolchildren travel daily to and from school

The commission considered that the agreements have been in place since 1975 but added that, “in its current form the scheme is not compatible with EU rules”.

A dialogue is now to be opened that will “explore options for reforming that scheme to bring it in line with the single market”.

The disability awareness training grants were found to be compatible with EU state aid rules.

In a statement following the European Commission’s decision, Bus Éireann says it welcomes the findings.

“In particular, the finding that current funding arrangements constitute existing aid which pre-dated the opening of the EU bus sector to competition in 1995,” the semi-state says.

We are pleased to note that the commission also consider the School Transport Scheme to be a beneficiary of existing aid as it is based on a 1975 agreement, that also pre-dates the opening of the sector to competition.

*An earlier edition of this article indicated that Dublin Bus was part of the School Transport Scheme, that is not the case.

Read: Bus Éireann technical glitch leaves families waiting for yearly tickets >

Read: Bus Éireann faces criticism over new online payment system >

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Rónán Duffy

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