Private bus and coach operators have criticised the “pitiful” amount of funding that Bus Eireann is providing to help with COVID-19 safety protocols on school buses.
The Coach Tourism & Transport Council of Ireland (CTTC) has said that private bus companies have been offered between €4.50 and €8.50 per day by Bus Eireann for enhanced santisation, cleaning and the provision of PPE on school buses across all routes.
On July 27, Minister for Education Norma Foley announced “Additional funding of €11.3 million has been provided as part of the package today to support hygiene, PPE and cleaning requirements,” for school transport schemes.
The CTTC has said that it is estimated that roughly €5.5 million of this will be provided to private operators of school buses over the school period of 39 weeks.
Chairman of the CTTC John Halpenny said that they welcome the government’s recognition that extensive measures will be required to ensure the safety of passengers and staff on school buses.
However, he added that they are “surprised and bemused” by the level of financial assistance Bus Eireann is offering to help private operators with expenses in meeting these standards.
He said it is “totally unsatisfactory” that the amount offered falls far short of the costs that private bus operators expect to incur on increased hygiene requirements.
“Offering as little as €4.50 a day to operators to deep clean and sanitise school buses, and provide PPE fails to recognise the considerable expense our members will have to go to.”
“Operators are desperate to get back in motion again after a long lay-off and they are fully committed to upholding the highest possible safety standards but we have to face the reality.”
“Every operator is under severe pressure and this pitiful allowance serves to only exploit their precarious position.”
“We have made our concerns known to Bus Eireann which regretfully has fallen on deaf ears and this is most disappointing when safety is at the core of the issue.”
The CTTC is Ireland’s largest representative body for coach touring companies, and private bus operators, of which there are 1,721 in Ireland, carrying 75 million passengers a year, and supporting 11,457 jobs in the country.
The representative body is asking Bus Eireann to engage with them on talks to resolve these issues, and claims the they have thus far refused to do so.
This is not the only area where concerns have been raised about the issues facing school bus operators when the new year begins.
Galway-Roscommon TD Denis Naughten said recently that operators who are not contracted by Bus Eireann haven’t only costs to worry about, but have been left entirely without government guidance.
Students at the post-primary level will be required to wear face coverings if they are using a school bus for transport.
Several other measures were briefly outlined in the Reopening Our Schools: The Roadmap for The Full Return to School, such as always sitting in preassigned seating next to a sibling or someone in the same class.
However, while Bus Eireann has been distributing more detailed guidance documents to its contractors, there has been “absolutely no advice” given to operators of school buses outside that system.
“Not only do they need guidance and support but they also need assistance in sanitising their buses just like those that are contracted to Bus Éireann.”