Dáil Éireann - Volume 677 - 05 March, 2009

Written Answers. - School Transport.

Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will review the method of payment for school transport to its original form whereby parents can pay each quarter rather than the new system where they are being asked to pay 50% by 31 July 2009 or payment in full. [9367/09]

Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason for the increase in school transport fees for the school year commencing September 2009; and his views on reducing the increase in view of the burden it places on families in the current economic climate. [9376/09]

  Deputy Seán Haughey: I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 206 together.

The costs in school transport, a service delivered by Bus Eireann on behalf of my Department, have been increasing arising from a range of issues such as: in ensuring a comfortable and safe transport service for over 135,000 children daily travelling to and from school, measures to ensure the highest standards including the phasing out of the 3 for 2 seating arrangement on both primary and post-primary services, providing all children with an adult seat each; the addition of a considerable number of vehicles to address capacity shortfalls arising from the decision to provide each child with an individual seat and the equipping of all dedicated school buses with safety belts; increased demands to meet the needs of special needs children; and parental choice.

[393] The introduction of the annual charge which replaces the term payment system will enable Bus Éireann, which operates the School Transport Scheme on behalf of my Department, to streamline the current payments system and the allocation of tickets. It will also ensure that route planning and seating arrangements are managed in a more efficient and cost effective manner. The overall spend in 2009 is now estimated to be €194m — a reduction of €2m in the revised allocations as a result of efficiencies.

In order to minimise the overall impact of these charges on families the increases will apply to the 55,000 eligible post primary pupils and children availing of concessionary transport. Primary school transport remains free of charge for over 54,500 children. Parents will be offered the option to spread the amount due over two payments payable in July and December. A maximum family payment of €650 will apply. Charges continue to be waived in the case of eligible post-primary children where the family is in possession of a valid medical card. Taking into account all the factors outlined, it is not envisaged that there will be a reduction in the annual charge system, the estimated expenditure or the level of charges. My Department has also commenced a Value for Money Review of the School Transport Scheme which is to be completed before the end of the year.