Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Darren O’Rourke has said that the next 72 hours are crucial to addressing the complex outstanding issues surrounding school transport and Covid-19.
The Meath TD said that urgent action is required to increase the number of buses in service to allow for more social distancing, for operators to be provided with additional financial supports to ensure that buses can be cleaned regularly, and that PPE is available to keep drivers safe.
Speaking today, Teachta O’Rourke said: “Parents and providers have concerns about the plan for school transport next week. There is still time to address these issues but we need to act now.
“We don’t want a situation to arise where an avoidable incident of infection or transmission arises due to poor practice.
“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.
“Parents are concerned about lack of social distancing, and drivers wonder how practical it is.
“The Minister should publish the public health advice in relation to the 100% capacity/no masks guidelines.
“It is essential to have additional capacity built into the plan. We need additional buses, additional drivers, and adequate PPE.
“There is no clarity on what contingencies there will be for children with underlying health conditions or for the 14,200 children with special educational needs.
“There has been no commitment to priority access to testing for drivers, which has the potential to be a very significant barrier to the successful implementation of the plan.
“Providers tell us that the expectations of the Department and Bus Éireann are unrealistic. Funding of €11.3 million was announced by Minister Foley on 27th July to support hygiene, PPE and cleaning requirements.
“But despite delivering 90% of Bus Éireann school bus services, private operators estimate they will receive just €5.5 million based on the current allocation, which falls far short of their expected costs.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire added:
“We need to marry the school plan with the school transport plan. There is a disconnect that needs to be addressed.
“The government also needs to address the anomalies that exist between those operators that are directly contracted by Bus Éireann and the Department of Education, and those who are privately contracted by groups of parents or schools themselves.”