Laois secondary school students are being bypassed by school buses because of a bureaucratic cost-saving exercise being enforced under the Department of Education's school transport scheme.
“Absolutely ridiculous” is how Cyril Darcy from Vicarstown describes the situation facing himself and his wife in getting their children to school this September.
Cyril has the backing of Cllr Tom Mulhall in trying to find a solution. The chairman of Laois County Council said “discrimination” is built into the subsidised scheme. The scheme was cutback in recent years to save money.
Mr Darcy's daughter starts secondary school in Portlaoise this week but he has been told that she does not qualify for a so-called discretionary school bus ticket.
She does not qualify because the Department says his home is closer to Athy than Portlaoise.
However, this infuriates the Darcys. In the first place, while she could get a bus that goes to Athy, Mr Darcy says there are no secondary school places there at present even if they wanted to send their daughter there.
Mr Darcy works in Dublin while his wife works part time in Portarlington. Their three other sons go to national school in Stradbally. They only get concessionary bus passes for the boys because there is space on the bus from Vicarstown to Stradbally. They are not automatically entitled to a pass becuase they live closer to Rath NS. The family is also worried about what happens down the track. The boys could lose their passes if other children who qualify automatically along the bus route start school in Stradbally.
They also face the prospect of having to make two school runs when their sons move on to secondary school as students in the Stradbally parish are being refused places in Portlaoise CBS because of a shortage of spaces in the town schools.
In an efort to secure a bus pass for his daughter, Mr Darcy offered to drop her to Stradbally, but the Department again refused.
“It's absolutely ridiculous - a joke. It is hard on everyone especially if both parents are working. How are we supposed to get to work and get the children to school,” he said.
The parents now have to resort to his flexi time arranagement, but this will be a huge inconvenience.
Mr Darcy said the scheme makes life very diffcult for families living in rural areas. He also believes there are other parents and students in the same situation.
“Basically, they are trying to get rid of the school bus because they don't want to pay for it,” he said.
Cllr Mulhall, who is chairman of Laois County Council, said the family, like many others, have to apply in April but only find out if they will get a ticket in late August. He said other families have approached him and the problem is common around Laois.
“They are hardworking people paying income tax, property tax and road tax and mortages and they can't get a bus ticket to educate their children,” he said.
The councillor said the scheme was limited during the recession but it should not be altered so that students should automatically get tickets, if there is a bus serving their area.
The Fine Gael county councillor said the situation amount to “discrimination” against students in rural areas.
“It has to be discrimination if they can't get a seat on the bus,” he said.