Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Darren O’Rourke TD today called for the Ministers for Education and Transport to address the myriad of issues around school transport and Covid-19.
Deputy O’Rourke is calling for additional buses to be put on to allow for more social distancing, and for operators to be provided with additional money to ensure buses can be cleaned regularly and that PPE is available to keep drivers safe.
Speaking today, the Meath East TD said: “Each year 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, rely on the School Transport Scheme, and this term will provide significant extra challenges due to Covid-19.
“It will come as a surprise to many, that although capacity on public transport has been limited to 50% due to Covid-19, no social distancing is planned for school buses when they return at the end of this month.
“While it may not be possible to achieve 50% capacity on these services, we believe additional buses should be put on to allow for more social distancing for schoolchildren.
“It’s envisaged that children will sit in designated seats, but as many school buses serve numerous schools, an outbreak in one school could spread through the school bus system under the current plans.
“We believe each school should have designated buses, to try and prevent the spread of Covid-19 from one school to another should there be an outbreak.
“We have thousands of buses and coaches sitting idle in yards around the state due to the lack of tourists this year, so the vehicles are there and the workers are keen to get back on the road.
“By utilising the coach and tour bus operators, we can ensure a greater level of social distancing takes place on school buses and also provide a lifeline of work for companies who have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“We are also calling for additional money to be made available to bus operators to ensure they can clean the buses regularly and have adequate PPE for drivers.
“Many drivers in the sector are older workers, so it’s imperative they have appropriate equipment to keep them safe at work.
“Contractors have told me that the money announced by the government for cleaning and PPE only works out at about €4.50 per day per contractor, which is inadequate to meet the costs they will face.
“Children in urban areas rely on the public transport network for their school transport needs, so extra services will be needed from next week to meet the increase in demand.
“There are significant issues outstanding in the current government plans, and we believe much more needs to be done ahead of school buses returning to the roads.”