Letters to the Editor: There must be a better way to provide school bus tickets

A parent whose child was refused a ticket this year proposes reforms of Ireland's school bus scheme
Letters to the Editor: There must be a better way to provide school bus tickets

Letter writer Anna Iskra proposes giving all primary school children school bus tickets, and giving secondary students  tickets for the public bus system. File picture: BusEireann.ie

Ireland is a booming country. It is a small country, relatively young in its independence, and still learning how to deal with expansions and growth. Like a young, talented adult who grows up surrounded by old grandmas and grandpas on the farm, suddenly it is thrown into a big world of LiveScience, medicine, software, technology, and modern progress. The world is changing fast for Ireland.

Unfortunately, being small with old roots in farming, many administrative procedures suffer from a lack of flexibility, adaptability, and functionality. 

It includes the school bus system.

Let’s take one of the regulations of the school bus scheme: “Any application made after 28 April 2023, or any payment/medical card details submitted after 9 June 2023 will be late. Where this happens, eligible students are not guaranteed a ticket.”

Such a rigid, conservative, and centralised administrative approach to a growing system, (23% growth in 2022 and already over 12% increase in student tickets in 2023) is ineffective. This reflects the centralised government system that doesn’t have enough resources to react to the growing demand even in a situation where the demand is forecasted and foreseen.

The 2022 Bus Éireann statement notes that there has been a 15% increase in passenger demand compared to 2019.

“The Government decision to waive fees for the academic year 2022/23 and make the school transport scheme, already highly subsidised, fee free as a cost-of-living measure drove record levels of demand, increasing almost 25%.” 

Nowhere in the statements, or the forecast, is the decision to improve administrative system and allow flexibility to grow and change. 

Applications are processed manually 

Here is another interesting point: Even though families are required to register on the website, behind the scenes all processing is manual: “A proof-of-concept trial on school ticketing was run in Co Meath. Currently the process of issuing tickets is manual, and there is no way of monitoring actual usage of allocated seats. 

“Specifically, in terms of the number, Bus Éireann is currently doing a body of work where we have found, for example, some applicants might have applied twice. They might have used two different email addresses. Some might have applied but not followed through. 

"That body of work is ongoing but nearing completion. There is certainly an increase but I will give the Deputy the full extent of it in as short a time as possible. This question of duplicate applications is still being worked through.” 

In a modern country where there are world class developments in science and technology, Government can’t streamline an Excel spreadsheet of 150,000 entries.

On October 13, 2023 we still see newspaper headlines telling us that more than 1,200 kids still have no seats.   

Minister's response

The answer by Norma Foley on October 17, 2023, is the following: “Bus Éireann is responsible for the planning and timetabling of school transport routes on behalf of my department. Bus Éireann endeavours, within available resources, to ensure that each eligible child has a reasonable level of school transport service in the context of the scheme nationally.

“Bus Éireann will try to facilitate requests for set down at addresses other than the child’s home address provided the alternate address is on the route of the existing service and the arrangements are the same throughout the school year.

“However, in general, it is not possible to facilitate atypical school transport arrangements which involve additional mileage, inconvenience to other children on the service, additional cost to the State or where Bus Éireann have concerns regarding a child’s safety.”

So the issue is new bus routes?

What about the existing localities where kids in the same family witnessed the chaos — some got the tickets and the other siblings not; or villages with kids going on the same route for many years who didn’t get a spot this year?

The school bus scheme is all part of the larger administrative transportation system. So, let's look for advantages of the centralised system in order to increase the revenue and solve the shortage of bus seats.

Use existing public bus system

What if all children in primary school get school bus tickets with no exception and kids in secondary school get student ticket on the public bus?

All public bus schedules between 7am and 9am and between 3.30pm and 4.30pm can be adjusted to accommodate local schools. No need for additional transportation, for additional drivers, finances, or routes. The whole system is in place, utilise it accordingly. It won’t even need additional resources except small shift in scheduling. 

Such an approach is common in Australia and some parts of Canada. Children use the public bus system with special fares.

Considering some current school busses must collect kids two hours earlier in order to do two runs in the morning, catching public buses will save time for kids and let them sleep longer in the morning which  proves to have a positive effect overall on their health. 

Allowing primary kids a guaranteed spot on the bus relieves parents of young children from worrying about their safety and older kids will feel even more independent by using public buses. This achieves the goal of the Bus Éireann: “Destination 2023 Strategic Objectives. Customer Satisfaction: Develop and implement a plan to achieve best-in class customer experience at all touchpoints.” 

The decision should not take long and hope all kids can be accommodated shortly.

Anna Iskra, Kilcrohane, Cork

Omission and avoidance

Gary Daly and his noble band of legal practitioners (Irish Examiner Letters to the Editor, November 17), nail it for once and for all. 

While there has been a rightful tsunami of worthy correspondence over the past weeks, excoriating the Israeli overkill policy of thinly-veiled genocide, it is good to see the formalised litany of transgressions of omission and avoidance by so many sovereign states. 

Mr Daly’s group submission has clearly fingered the corrupt, hypocritical ambivalence, and downright shameful derogation of responsibility by so many state leaders vis-a-vis the outrageous excesses of Israeli so-called ‘defensive’ retaliation for the initial Hamas savage brutality.

It shines a repulsive light on the regularised disingenuity and two-facedness of so many supposedly mature international players. The appalling stance of Joe Biden, on the one hand burgeoning funding to the hilt for the Israeli ‘war effort and at the same time pretending to call for humanitarian restraint but not a ceasefire, even at this stage. The US have relentlessly cowed and bowed to Israel for decades, using it as a proxy ally in the permanent melee that is Middle Eastern power and conflict dynamics. Such support is predicated on the US ferocious appetite for oil, self-aggrandisement, world dominance, and its own domestic electoral machination. Nothing to do with sympathetic alignment with either decency or decorum. Purely self-serving, period.

In all of this of course, the UN is simply a busted flush, a ‘venereal’ framework of mere ‘tut-tut’ capability of influence and control. The nonsense that its permanent security council has members like Russia, which invades wherever and whenever it wants; China, which threatens, bullies, and manipulates all round the place, treating some of its own citizens with appalling brutality; the US who treats UN resolutions regarding its own ‘invasive’ tendencies as a tad bothersome, but certainly not to be heeded; Britain who spinelessly weaves, ducks, and dives with something akin to shameful cowardice; France whose colonial residue still reverberates with less than human rights clean-sheets. 

What a cabal of ‘cowboys’, masquerading as ‘keepers of the peace’. Where have authenticity, dependability, and honourability gone? Gone to seed, it seems.

Ireland’s duplicity, this time round, feeds easily into this deceitful web of dishonour.
What with Micheál Martin prancing around the Middle East harvesting as many photo-ops as he can, as he supposedly attempts to ‘calm’ the waters of war, knowing rightly that he is simply strutting a forlorn dance of faux gravitas, rather than demanding a full and immediate halt to the current travesties being perpetrated. Calling it as it is, was never Micheál’s game. Always a man for the fudge, for another report, a further ‘kick-to-touch’ avoidance of the blatantly obvious, a bit like an Irish Rishi Sunak.

No-one could ever in any way condone the initial Hamas actions of October 7, but acquiesence (or, God forbid, support) for the Israeli response, is in itself a tragic travesty of truth. 

To say that Israel has harvested its self-inflicted whirlwind after decades of their own corrupt, illegal adventurism and behaviour is sadly not all that far from the truth, albeit a grim and deadly truth of perennial perseverance. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

Jim Cosgrove, Lismore, Co Waterford




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