School transport services in 2015 were operating with a spare capacity of 35% and cost a total of €173m to provide — about €1 million per school day.
The operational capacity and cost was revealed today in a special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the provision of school transport by the Department of Education and Skills.
The report also reveals that payments to Bus Éireann in 2015 totalled €149m (net of €14m in fees collected by Bus Éireann from fare-paying pupils).
The remaining cost, €24m, primarily relates to special needs escorts and transport grants.
The report also reveals that the school transport service is heavily subsidised, with only 8.4% of the cost of the scheme being recouped from fare-paying pupils in 2015.
The average annual cost of transporting eligible pupils was around €1,800 in 2015, it found.
As regards operations the report reveals the dedicated school transport bus fleet (excluding taxis and pupils who avail of scheduled Bus
Éireann/CIÉ services) had a carrying capacity of 163,000 seats in 2015 — a similar carrying capacity to that which existed in 2007.
The number of eligible pupils carried on the dedicated bus fleet dropped from 117,000 in 2007 to 85,000 in 2015 with a significant estimated spare capacity of 35% when all pupils are included.
The report says that the decline in the number of users of the scheme has not been met with a similar decline in overall costs with the department attributing this, at least in part, to the increased demand for school transport by pupils with special educational needs.
As regards oversight the report reveals that no service level agreement (SLA) is in place between the Department and Bus Éireann and that the key document governing the relationship between the parties has not substantially changed in over 40 years.
The report reveals that despite the 1975 arrangements being described as a cost recovery model, Bus Éireann had accumulated a surplus of €11.2m from operating the scheme up to the end of 2015.
Read the full report here