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Bus Éireann ‘working on plans’ – but students still left stranded

The brakes remain jammed on efforts to reinstate a school bus for Rosscahill pupils who are entering into their fourth month without a service.

Children in the Rosscahill area attending St Paul’s secondary school in Oughterard had the service abruptly withdrawn on October 17 and despite repeated attempts by parents to have it reactivated, no progress has been made.

In a statement to the Connacht Tribune this week, Bus Éireann confirmed that it was “actively working on a number of plans to reinstate this service and will continue to engage with families involved”.

However, one parent who spoke to this newspaper said it had been like pulling teeth trying to get information from the state-owned transport provider.

Marie Egan, whose son is in first year at the school, said she and other parents have been struggling to ensure their children are at school every day.

Hitting out at dire communication from the company, she said to date all they had received was a few emails – the first of which was on October 17 to tell them the service was being suspended on the following day.

“We got another email in November to say it was still not operating and there was nothing then until January when we put more pressure on the office to communicate with us.

“They eventually got back to us and all they said was they were sorry for the inconvenience, but they gave us no plan for how they are going to sort this,” said Ms Egan.

Affected parents had organised two meetings so far, she said, and sent letters to Bus Éireann, collectively and separately, expressing their frustration and outlining the problems being caused for parents with no other means of getting their children to school.

“At the end of the day, we have paid for the service and the kids are entitled to the service. Bus Éireann must be held accountable – it’s their responsibility to provide the service,” said Ms Egan.

The service had been contracted to a private operator and in its statement, Bus Éireann said it no longer had a contractor in place.

“This is against a backdrop of driver shortages being experienced in many sectors of the economy throughout the country.

“This service is not cancelled and the local school transport team is continuing to engage with local bus operators to try and secure a transport solution,” said the spokesperson.

“Bus Éireann wishes to apologise to families affected and fully understands the importance of school transport services for the pupils and parents who depend on our services in the Oughterard area,” they continued.

Meanwhile, Galway West TD Noel Grealish raised the matter in the Dáil and said there were persistent problems in recruiting school bus drivers, noting that part of the problem was an enforced retirement age.

“There is a serious problem with the transport system whereby people who drive school buses have to retire at 70 years of age but, theoretically, can still drive commercial buses until they are 100 because there is no upper age limit in place.

“Bus drivers should be able to drive school buses at least until they are 75 – even if it means they have to do a medical examination every year,” said Deputy Grealish.

Responding, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this “might be part of the solution to the driver shortage”.

Senator Seán Kyne said in addition to the issue on the Oughterard route, there was a problem with another bus route to the Educate Together in Galway for pupils from Moycullen.

“While some issues were outside of Bus Éireann’s control, they have failed to provide alternatives for frustrated parents and their children.

“Bus Éireann management must get to grips with these problems and provide alternatives. It seems now that Bus Éireann are hoping to coast to the end of term with no alternative buses or drivers,” said the Fine Gael senator.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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