Online school transport system a ‘total shambles’

Bus Éireann’s online school transport system has been described as a "total shambles" after technical difficulties caused trouble for parents trying to buy tickets.

With just a week to go before parents must pay for next term and guarantee seats for their children, the Department of Education said last night that online payment levels are being monitored and the situation will be reviewed closer to next Friday’s deadline.

The bus company introduced changes this year to its online facility for families to pay for school bus tickets, but recent technical problems left parents frustrated. The trouble was compounded when they could not get through by phone for days to some regional school transport offices listed on the website.

Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan said the system appears to be crumbling, not everyone has the compatible internet browser, and lots of users had problems pin-pointing their exact address on the online map. “Even if they did get that far, they got to the payments option, only to be told the site is experiencing difficulties and to return later,” he said.

Bus Éireann operates the €170 million school transport system for the Department of Education, and carried 116,000 children from more than 70,000 families last year, when online payments were made for 70% of the 64,000 liable for charges. Families pay up to €100 for each primary pupil and €350 for second-level students, but medical-card holders who qualify for a waiver can also supply details through the online system.

A company spokeswoman said families were struggling with the upgraded system and, based on feedback over recent weeks, it is working to change some wording to help guide them through the system correctly.

“Families are encouraged to submit their query by email, if they cannot get through to their local Bus Éireann office, and they will be contacted by a member of staff who will assist them with their query. Bus Éireann regrets this inconvenience.”

The online system is in place since 2008 and she said payments through it are currently 20% ahead of this time last year, with more than 7,000 families having paid online, and over 13,000 supplying medical card details.

While it encourages families to pay, or seek exemptions for their children online, the company said cheques, postal orders, money orders and cash will continue to be processed as in previous years. Medical cards can be verified in local school transport offices, but families are not encouraged to send them by post.

Mr Phelan said now was not the time to be improving the system, just over a week ahead of the deadline. He called for it to be extended for stressed parents.

One father who tried to access the system late last week was initially assured by Bus Éireann the site was working fine, but said he could not log in until Monday.

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