Sinn Féin TD for Kerry, Teachta Pa Daly, has slammed the Minister for Transportation and the Minister for Education for their inability to provide safe and affordable school transportation.
“It is unacceptable for school to have started back, and for so many parents and students to be left without transportation,” Teachta Daly said in his statement.
“Kerry is a rural county and this issue has been on everyone’s radar since March. School transport is crucial to a functioning school system in the county.
A Slap in the Face
“To have allowed this to develop is a slap in the face to students and families who have had to deal with home schooling, cancelled exams, predictive grades and uncertainty over the coming school year.
“I am hearing from parents who have been trying to secure transport since before the deadline in August and could not. Since the beginning of August they are not receiving replies to their queries from Bus Éireann.
Rightful Outrage at Situation
“People are rightfully outraged at the lack of planning and communication, placing families under immense stress.
“People are now getting to work late and leaving work early to ensure their children can get to school on time and safely as car-pooling is not an option for many parents.
“Private school transportation operators are contacting me desperate for clarity on funding. They simply cannot afford to run their business and provide the service under changed circumstances without some form of support from the government.
Financial Burden on Stressed Families
The operators do not expect to place this financial burden on already stressed families.
“They know they must adhere to National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) guidelines which means they will be forced to halve the student numbers they carry or add additional buses for free; this is not a viable solution and will lead to cancelled routes.
“Upon reaching out to the Department for advice, operators were simply told they should adhere to NPHET guidelines but no help was offered or even suggested in terms of financial support.
Insulting to Operators and Families
“This is tone deaf and an insult to operators and families alike. Utilising the Remote Area Grant for operators would be a simple and effective solution; it is unusable by most working families.
“Compounding the above, I also hearing that Bus Éireann is running buses at full capacity because the Department of Education has not moved quickly enough to place additional contracts in place to expand services.
No Response from Bus Éireann
“My office has tried to contact Bus Éireann but had no response bar a single phone conversation with the Dublin call centre. I have written to Minister Foley to ask for her intervention as a matter of urgency.
“Ironically, I have also been contacted by a number of private coach operators who want to volunteer their services to help the expansion of the school bus routes, but they cannot get a response from the Department.
“This is basic economics: there is demand, and there is a supply. Unfortunately government seems unable to connect the dots and yet again, it is the working family that has to bail them out.”