Reform of distance criteria welcomed however fears remain that the capacity of the system, as it stands, cannot cater for the expected future demand

Ireland’s leading representative body for private bus operators, the Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) has welcomed the publication of the Review of the School Transport scheme by the Department of Education. The report, they say, provides some clarity for parents, schools and operators.  

The CTTC has welcomed the reduction of the distance criteria to 1km for primary students and 2km for post-primary students, and the complete removal of ‘nearest school’ criteria. The expansion will open the system up to more students from the 2025-26 School term and will provide operators with the chance to compete for more routes.

In addition, the CTTC welcomes the proposed increased use of technology to streamline the system. They welcome that up-to-date electronic mapping technology will be in place by 2025/26 for measuring eligibility distance and transparency. The CTTC also welcomed the call in the document to streamline and simplify the ticketing process given the issues faced in recent years.

Despite these developments, a number of serious challenges remain for operators to tender for new routes, or indeed to continue supplying the routes currently provided. Fuel, parts and wage inflation are placing severe strain on the ability of operators to continue providing services in a commercially viable way. The fuel supports provided by the government following the war in Ukraine were welcomed by operators, however a fuel variation clause should be considered to help offset the losses being experienced. There are also serious problems regarding the recruitment and retention of drivers. The 70-year-old rule for school bus drivers has been cited as a major problem, as experienced drivers leave the industry and are not being replaced, as younger drivers have yet to be granted permission to drive on school routes.

It is the view of the CTTC that the expansion of the system to cater for over 100,000 more students cannot succeed without various reforms to empower operators to invest in newer vehicles, hire and train younger drivers, keep existing drivers in place and remain competitive to cater for the expected demand.

Commenting on the publication of the report by Minister Norma Foley, Feargal Barton, Chair of the CTTC’s School Transport committee said “we welcome the clarity this long-awaited report brings for students, their families and schools, however, we are deeply concerned that the system may not have the capacity to cater for an extra 100,000 students over the coming five years.”

“Commercial Bus Operators provide over 90% of school transport routes in the state and we are calling for a working group to be established now to include all stakeholders to ensure the planned expansion of the system is fit for purpose, for families, students and operators alike. Commerical operators stand ready to help ensure the system works, however, to date, our suggestions have unfortunately fallen on deaf ears.” Mr. Barton concluded.


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