Bus Éireann has been having difficulty getting taxi operators to run services for children attending special schools or schools with special classes.
It contracted nearly 300 taxis last year to bring pupils, and escorts where required, to schools in Cork city and county under the Department of Education’s transport scheme for children with special educational needs. They were among more than 4,000 vehicles that brought around 12,000 children with special needs to school last year, accounting for 40% of the €182m school transport bill.
An extra 47 taxis have been approved for the current school year in Cork, and Bus Éireann said it is arranging transport services for a number of children. There were about 60 children in the city and county waiting for a service earlier this week but the company said the number changes regularly as extra services are finalised, or new applications arrive.
“A tendering process must be satisfied as well as background vetting checks on nominated personnel, all of which means there may be a delay in introducing services,” a spokesperson said.
However, some children still waiting for a service this week are known to have had applications sent to the Department of Education since early July or sooner.
Bus Éireann was unable to say how many children in Cork, and nationally, have only received sanction to be carried under the transport scheme since September 1, because it is busy trying to resolve the difficulties as applications continue to arrive late. The company is to review the overall situation when the majority of pupils have been accommodated later this year.
While applications are described as being late, many parents face difficulties finding suitable schools which will accommodate children with special educational needs by facilitating special classes or autism spectrum disorder units. This may mean that they can not make applications until July or August.
The applications are submitted on behalf of parents to the department by the National Council for Special Education, whose staff must certify that the child will be attending the nearest school which is or can be resourced to cater for him or her.
While the department can provide a grant to cover the cost of private transport or if parents make arrangements themselves with a taxi driver, some families may not be able to transport children due to work or other commitments. A bigger concern for some parents is the effect of a lack of routine, or changes to routines, for children with autism or other needs.
Bus Éireann said a shortage of taxi operators interested in providing school transport services also occasionally occurs in other locations, including Kilkenny and Laois. If a second tender competition has to be run, it seeks to find a minibus instead of a taxi service.
The Department of Education has sanctioned nearly 300 new services this year for children with special educational needs.