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Chaos in school bus system as applications for seats mount amid serious driver shortages

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A sharp surge in applications for a seat on the school bus, combined with a shortage of drivers, is causing chaos for families ahead of the new school year.

With the return to school from next week, some students are being told they have lost their places on the transport system.

Bus Éireann said there had been an “unprecedented number of new applications”, most likely linked to the decision not to charge for tickets for 2022/23 as part of the government’s response to the rising cost of living.

It’s saving families up to €500 this year, but it’s put pressure on the system, which is also struggling with driver and bus shortages.

An increase in student enrollments in the secondary school and a relaxation of regulations over the past year to allow certain students in the second-closest school to use the service have also improved eligibility.

Brother and sister Seán and Rachel Connor, from Ferns, Co. Wexford, are among those who have been told there is no room for them on the bus.

The news came via email earlier this week and her mum Jeanne said she was trying “not to panic” but didn’t know how to get her to school.

Seán (17), who is now a fifth year, and Rachel, who is a sophomore, traveled to Creagh College, Gorey, as ‘discounted’ passengers.

They are not entitled to a seat because they are not attending the nearest school but have availed of discounted tickets made available to students if there is space on the bus.

Last year, about 30,000 out of 107,000 mainstream passengers were discounted.

The Connor siblings live in a rural area and their mother said there was no easy way to get them to Gorey as she works intermittently as a nurse while her husband travels in a different direction to his place of work in the town of Wexford.

“Seán has been in the ministry for four years and Rachel was with us last year,” Ms. Connor said.

“Then, two days ago, I got an email saying all the spots were taken and there was no more room for her.”

She has appealed the decision but does not know what the outcome will be.

Now it’s time to go back to school.

In addition to transporting Seán and Rachel to the school they both wanted to attend, Ms. Connor sees using the bus service as key to helping young people gain time management and independent living skills, and she is unhappy about that they miss this opportunity.

Yesterday her husband was exploring the possibility of transferring Seán and Rachel to FCJ Secondary School in Bunclody, where their sister Leah is a student, but the school said it had no vacancies in the sophomore year.

While fifth-year enrollment might be possible, it could not offer Seán the choice of his Leaving Cert subject.

Bus Éireann said it had received nearly 130,000 applications for regular school transport, including 44,299 new ones.

More than 100,000 tickets have already been issued and applications are still being processed and tickets issued.

However, it pointed to the need to procure “additional buses and drivers” to provide transportation for the higher number of people qualifying for the service.

“Unfortunately, the unprecedented number of new applications for the upcoming school year has resulted in some delays in issuing tickets,” said Bus Éireann.

“Bus Éireann is continuing to work on remaining applications and families will be contacted as more information becomes available.”

Wexford-based Senator Malcolm Byrne said: “We still have a creaky public school transport system.”

He said that while the removal of transportation fees “has made a big difference for families, the growing number of users of the service has meant that many families are at risk of losing out this year as well”.

“There are wonderful school bus drivers out there, but we have a major shortage and not many young people are going into bus driving as a career,” he added. “We have to get more people excited about this career path in the short term.”

Independent TD Verona Murphy, also based in Co Wexford, said her constituency offices were “deluged with communications in support of parents whose children are being denied discounted school bus tickets”.

She said kids who used the school bus service for three, four and even five years suddenly don’t have a seat.

“There are first graders who have no way of getting to their new schools,” she said.

“With less than two weeks to go back to school, it’s downright a shame what’s happening.”

She said families are now facing huge private transport costs, citing one parent who expects to pay up to €2,000 to get their two children to school for a year.

Ms Murphy has urged Education Secretary Norma Foley to intervene.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/chaos-in-school-bus-system-as-applications-for-places-surge-amid-serious-lack-of-drivers-41924543.html Chaos in school bus system as applications for seats mount amid serious driver shortages

Fry Electronics Team

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