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Kildare Today

with Clem Ryan

Overhaul in School Transport: Phased Scheme Proposed For Coming Years

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore recently told Kfm that the scheme must be rolled out alongside a major overhaul of the system.

A new school transport scheme could be phased in over the next few years.

A review has recommended scrapping the rule where students have to choose the school closest to their house in order to get State funded transport.

It also advises reducing the distance rule, with the changes being discussed by Cabinet this morning.

Plans are underway to abolish the longstanding "nearest school" rule by 2030, which mandates students to select the closest school to their residence for eligibility under the scheme.

Additionally, distance criteria will be revised, with primary school pupils required to live at least 3.2 km from their school, reduced to 2km and potentially 1km, contingent on funding.

Similarly, post-primary school pupils, currently needing to reside at least 4.8km from their school, may see this reduced to 2km under certain funding conditions.

Before the onset of the cost-of-living crisis, annual fees for the scheme stood at €100 for primary students and €350 for secondary school students, with a family cap of €650.

Amidst the crisis, fees were temporarily waived for a year and later reintroduced at reduced rates to mitigate issues of unused bus places.

For the 2023-2024 academic year, fees were set at €50 for primary students and €75 for post-primary students, with a maximum family fee of €125.

This fee structure will continue for the upcoming 2024-2025 school year, providing relief to families grappling with rising living costs.

While acknowledging the positive impact this could have for many families, Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore recently told Kfm that the scheme must be rolled out alongside a major overhaul of the system.

She cautioned against overlooking the students still awaiting the promised school bus service for the 2023/24 term, which was slated to begin last August.

There are concerns that numerous families might encounter a recurrence of the school transport challenges experienced last year when the new term commences this autumn.

She said persistent issues such as driver shortages, last-minute cancellations, and unfulfilled promised bus routes continue to plague Kildare and Wicklow.

As applications for the School Transport Scheme are due to open at the end of the month, the Minister has yet to clarify any additional measures implemented to prevent a reoccurrence of these problems.

Deputy Whitmore has advocated for establishing a new national school bus service under the Department of Transport's jurisdiction, detached from the Department of Education.

She also called for a significant recruitment effort to attract part-time drivers.

The ongoing issues have caused immense disruption and stress for parents, some resorting to taking time off work or even resigning from their jobs to transport their children to school.

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