24. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the fact that 327 children who applied on time for his Department’s school transport scheme were not allocated seats; if all 327 children were facilitated by private transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14455/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy John Halligan): School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

Currently over 116,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are being transported in over 4,500 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017.

The purpose of the School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school.

In general, children are eligible for school transport if they meet the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school.

Under the terms of the scheme a minimum number of 10 eligible children residing in a distinct locality, as determined by Bus Éireann, are required before consideration may be given to the establishment or retention of school transport services, provided this can be done within reasonable cost limits having regard to the available resources for the overall scheme.  

For school bus operating purposes a “distinct locality” is a cluster of eligible children who reside in the same general area, in the same general direction from the school attended, as determined by Bus Éireann taking cognisance of the local road network. A service to convey a group of children whose homes are at scattered points in a school district would not be considered feasible for logistical and cost reasons.

However, such eligible children, following an application for transport within the prescribed time limits, receive a Remote Area Grant towards the cost of private transport arrangements. I understand that for the 2017/18 school year, nationally 327 children for whom an application was made within the time limits, are to receive this grant.

The terms of the School Transport Scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.