Call for new approach to school transport

THE Government must end its piecemeal approach to school transport and make it the responsibility of a single department, parents have warned.

The call for a fresh approach to school bus safety and transport came on the eve of the first anniversary of the Navan school bus crash in which five teenage girls were killed.

The National Parents Council Primary (NPC-P), also believes drivers should be banned from overtaking school buses which stop to let children on or off, with penalty points as an optional sanction for breaking such a rule.

NPC-P chief executive Fionnuala Kilfeather said parents are very concerned with the Government approach to the school transport issue.

She said while they welcome recent developments — including the provision of seat belts on all school buses by the end of this year, and a review ordered by Transport Minister Martin Cullen of the manner in which Bus Éireann carries out roadworthiness checks on its own fleet — these were long-sought after measures.

“Safety on school buses is not a new problem. Since being established 20 years ago, we have had many meetings with the Department of Education and made submissions expressing the views of parents on all aspects of school transport and, in particular, on safety issues,” Ms Kilfeather said.

“We are greatly concerned that the approach to school transport is, and has been, a piecemeal approach, as there was and is no overall plan either for safety or provision,” she said.

The NPC-P is calling for meaningful engagement with both the Department of Education and the

Department of Transport on the whole issue of school transport and safety on school transport.

Among the council’s proposals to Government is that school transport should come under the remit of the Department of Transport, with a focus on providing wider services for local communities.

“While school transport would have priority, communities could identify their own needs, such as bringing older people shopping, or to the doctor, or evening transport for members of the community. It is a ludicrous situation that provisions for transport should come out of an education budget and that transport safety has to compete with educational provision for children,” Ms Kilfeather said.

“The school transport service has been developed without reference to the more general transport needs of the local community. School buses are used for a short time every day and during the school year, resulting in high unit costs,” she said.

NPC-P says parents are demanding that all school buses be clearly identifiable by way of uniform colour and clearly marked with the words ‘School Bus’. They also want supervisors and bus escorts to be trained and behaviour issues to be included in safety education for children, parents, school staff and bus personnel.

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