A Cork parent has described the shortage of school transport across the county as ‘horrendous’ for her family.
A recent announcement by the Government that all school transport fees, including for concessionary tickets, were to be waived this year to counter the cost-of-living crisis triggered an unprecedented number of applications to the School Transport Scheme.
While thousands of tickets have been issued, many applicants have not received tickets.
Mandy O’Leary Hegarty, who is also the Sinn Féin representative for Cork North East, said that she learned four days before the start of the new school term that her son would not be receiving a bus ticket.
“Every year it is a lottery system, so you are never guaranteed a space, but this year we were told four days before school returned that my son wouldn’t have a ticket for this coming year,” Ms O’Leary Hegarty said.
“We have been told by Bus Éireann we need to sort something out for this year, because he definitely won’t have a seat.
“This news was horrendous for us, as a family, as the bus is a lifeline for us,” she said.
The distressed Cork mother said that other families are in the ‘same boat’.
“We both work full time, so for us someone must cut their working hours, go in late or finish work early [in order to bring her child to school]. It is very tough on people who work shift work.
“My husband is following the school bus every morning to the school.
“That is a tough one, as well, especially as we are going through a cost-of-living crisis. So many families are in the same boat.”
Cork Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has called on Education Minister Norma Foley to solve the school-transport shortage.
Mr Ó Laoghaire said that the minister should have expected extra demand this year.
“The minister should have anticipated that there would be increased demand.
“The solution to this is simple: She should have worked with Bus Éireann to find additional capacity to meet this demand.
“Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for 10,000 additional places on school-bus transport,” Mr Ó Laoghaire e said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education told The Echo that Bus Éireann is working through the remaining applications.
“School-transport ticket registration for the 2022/23 school year closed on July 29, by which time almost 130,000 applications/registrations were received for mainstream school transport.
“This figure includes 44,299 new applications, as well as roll-overs from the previous school year. Already, over 121,000 tickets for the 2022/2023 school year have been issued to applicants.
“Bus Éireann will continue to process applications and to issue tickets as soon as extra buses and drivers are sourced and become available.
“However, regrettably, the unprecedented numbers of new applications for the upcoming school year have led to some delays in issuing tickets.
“Families will be contacted as further information is available,” the spokesperson added.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork South West, Christopher O’Sullivan, will host a public meeting for those impacted by school transport changes this Saturday, September 10, at 7pm, in the Clonakilty GAA pavilion.
“My office is working with the minister’s office to secure places for as many students as possible. We are here to help,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“I’ve been in constant contact with the department, trying to resolve particular issues, and they have given an undertaking that anyone who has a concessionary ticket, who is attending at least their second-closest school and is over the required distance from the school, will be catered for,” he added.