Rogers Presses for Free School Transport For All Pupils
SDLP Education spokesperson Sean Rogers MLA has pressed the Minister for Education and the Minister for Regional Development to adopt a joined-up approach when it comes to pursuing free public transport for all school pupils.
Mr Rogers was speaking today ahead of an Assembly debate on the feasibility of free school transport. He said: “It is fair to say that since the current arrangement for the provision of home-to-school transport came into effect in 1996, a number of its provisions are now clearly out of date. Since then there have been a number of papers published into various cost saving measures the department could utilise in respect of improving the school transport policy for children.
“I believe it is now time for the Department of Education to adopt a collaborative approach with the Department for Regional Development and assess the possibility of free public transport for all school pupils.
“Increasing the availability of public transport would have knock-on beneficial effects for the level of traffic on our roads, reduce the financial strain on parents and improve school attendance figures.
“A review of the home- to- school transport policy is long overdue. An opportunity now exists for the Minister for Education and the Minister for Regional Development to adopt a joint up approach and assess the feasibility of a policy which would provide all school pupils access to public transport. This must be done with minimal delay. Transport policy, including eligibility, the definition of suitable school, and the potential for some parents to contribute to costs, should be reviewed at the earliest opportunity.
“Many children avail of concessionary rates on public transport at present. That includes children under 16 who are entitled to half-price concession fares on public transport. School children over 16 can get one third off their public transport fares by using a y-link smartcard. Some children are also eligible for free transport to and from school but via Department of Education funding arrangements.
“I understand that the concessionary fares schemes currently in place cost the Department £30 million per annum but this support is crucial to alleviating the financial burden of parents. It is essential that access to public transport is not undermined by curtailing access to concessionary schemes.”
Mr Rogers added: “Our young people should be able to avail of a service that they can rely on to get them to school safely, efficiently and without incurring a cost burden. I am particularly mindful of school children in rural communities and in my own constituency who should be eligible for assistance. Great inroads have been made in improving public transport services across the North and what better way to continue that then delivering our children to school in that way.
“When reviewing the home to school transport policy I would urge the Minister for Regional Development to fully pursue a study of how to use our ever-improving transport system for the benefit of all our school children.”