More than 9,500 tickets have been issued for school transport in Donegal
Bus Éireann says there has been a 7% increase in the number of school bus tickets issued in Donegal for the school year.
Children around the county have been stripped of access to school transport due to the increase in demand for the school transport scheme.
There has been unprecedented demand for the school transport scheme after the Government announced it was waiving fees for one year to help alleviate the cost-of-living crisis. The scheme is operated for the Department of Education by Bus Éireann with most of the routes subcontracted locally.
Children around the county who previously had access to school transport on concessionary tickets have been left without transport.
Major problems have emerged in north Inishowen where children entitled to free transport have been left without seats on a scheduled school bus due to capacity issues.
Local politicians have hit out at the way the scheme has been rolled out citing a lack of planning and say the situation is causing stress to children and parents.
Bus Éireann said more than 9,500 tickets have been issued for school transport in Donegal and all services in the county operating at full capacity. It said there has been “unprecedented demand” for the school transport scheme this year and it has issued 121,500 tickets for mainstream school transport compared to 107,000 last year.
The State company said a number of pupils in Donegal were unsuccessful in acquiring a ticket for the school year as they did not complete the registration process by the closing date of July 29 and that seats will be allocated to late applicants where capacity exists on a route.
The company said: “The normal eligibility criteria of the scheme still apply. Any students who do not meet these criteria are deemed not eligible, or concessionary applicants and are allocated a ticket based on the availability of a seat when all eligible children have been catered for.”
Bus Éireann said it is continuing to procure additional capacity for school transport services to cater for remaining pupils who meet the qualifying criteria of the scheme and additional resources are being put in place at its call centre to deal with increased call volumes.
Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said school transport anomalies need to be sorted out as a matter of urgency.
He said he had been contacted by a number of parents who had either primary school children just below the 3.2km threshold or 4.8km in the case of secondary school students, who no longer could get what is called a discretionary school transport ticket, because of the huge increase by others now applying for the scheme.
“Buses that passed by your house were allowed to pick you up on a discretionary basis, but now that they are full, this is no longer available. They go out and measure your house to the school. I think that all school kids should be entitled to transport, maybe take it down to a half mile and it wouldn’t really cost that much more. And with higher fuel prices, lower-income families are especially vulnerable when it comes to costs over the whole school term.”
Speaking about addressing the issues in north Inishowen, Donegal Sinn Féin TD Pádraig MacLoclainn said there was a shortfall of between five and 14 places on the bus serving Clonmany on different mornings since the start of the school year.
He said there is a minibus on standby but that is only being employed once the first bus is filled up.
“It does not make sense. Why are the two buses not there waiting?”
There is only an emergency backup because the department has not signed off on the need for extra capacity on the route, he added.
“So all they are providing is an emergency backup service which does not make any sense.”
There are parents across Inishowen who have in the past paid for concessionary tickets who don’t have access to school transport this year, he said.
He said he has contacted the minister's office “countless times” about the issue which is causing stress and uncertainty for children and parents.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.