Current School Transport Policy was planned and introduced by Fianna Fail in their 2011 Budget. The changes for the primary school transport system include the introduction of the annual charge, the removal of eligibility under the closed school rules for certain children living less than 3.2 km from the school and the minimum of ten eligible children required to retain a transport service rest squarely on the shoulders of Fianna Fáil.
It was absolutely clear to me and the parents and teachers who campaigned with me to fight against the demise of school transport that Fianna Fail/Fine Gael were hell bent on getting rid of school transport. The latest step to downsize the school buses is another nail in the coffin of Rural Ireland. The Value for Money Review on School Transport conducted by Mary Coughlan in 2010 set out how School Transport was going to be axed.
There has been a huge number of children pushed into the ‘concessionary transport’ category rising from 4,854 in 2011/12 to 18,688 in 2014/15. These are children who are deemed not to qualify for free transport either because of nearest school rule, minimum numbers or income. Up to now, they have been able to allowed to use the spare seats on the buses but if the bus sizes are reduced they will be left without transport.
The Minister for Rural Affairs must now make a stand for Rural Ireland by stopping this latest attempt to get rid of primary school transport and by introducing flexibility into the system to meet the needs of rural families and rural communities.