[WATCH] Free supervised school transport to start in September

Study shows that free supervised school transport could encourage 14,000 more students to use the system from the next scholastic year • Education Ministry issues White Paper for consultation

Free supervised school transport for all students planned
Free supervised school transport for all students planned

Free school transport for all students is expected to boost the number of children that will make use of it as from the next scholastic year, research undertaken by the Education Ministry shows. The first phase of the new transport system will start at the beginning of the next scholastic year and will be implemented in phases.

The study carried out by audit firm Grant Thornton found that 14,000 more students could be expected to use school transport as a result of the new scheme. School transport is currently free only for State school students.

The deal breaker for most parents appears to be onboard supervision of students, which is currently unavailable.

Before last year’s general election, the government had pledged to provide free, supervised school transport to all school children in Malta. The Education Ministry on Monday released a White Paper for consultation on the new service. The consultation process will be open for a month.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said the proposed measure would result in an improved quality of life for both students and parents, while also making a positive contribution to the environment by reducing the number of cars and congestion on the road.

He said that everything pointed to a roughly 30% increase in the number of students using school transport, once the system came into force. 

The minister said the studies suggested three potential options for how the system could work with the stakeholders consulted so far having a clear preference for one particular option.

Moreover, he said that irrespective which option is selected, the ministry will be drawing up a list of accredited service providers that will ensure vans used are of a good quality, drivers are fit to be around children and willing to accept the conditions laid down by the government, among other things. 

Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri explained that the ministry engaged accountancy firm Grant Thornton to carry out a market analysis and recommend a way forward for the project’s implementation.

The analysis, he said, included extensive consultations with both church and independent school operators, as well as surveys among the general population. The consultation process will run in parallel with a preliminary market consultation to gauge interest on the part of operators.

He explained that internal discussions and stakeholder feedback had indicated a clear preferred option but that the ministry would be open to hearing other suggestions, based on the outcome of the consultation period. 

What did the research find?

There are currently just over 56,000 students in Malta’s schools, with 23,730 making regular use of school transport. Based on the feed back obtained from stakeholders, this would increase to 37,953 once the system is up and running.

The findings also showed that supervision would be key to the system’s success, with roughly half of parents stating they would not be willing to make use of the service if it was unsupervised.

Fabri said the government preferred teachers to supervise students, as did parents. Supervision would be on voluntary basis.

What are the three options?

Retain the current systems and grant parents full refunds of fees paid for school transport. This option would cost around €24 million.

Create a system of centralised route planning while retaining school specific transport services. This option would cost around €20 million.

School transport is offered on the basis of the child’s final destination, rather than the school. This option would cost around €14 million.

Other considerations

The government will be entering into an accreditation process with operators and would negotiate a fixed price for the service. The possibility of changing some school opening times in order to free up more vans to meet the increased demand will also be considered.

Any parents applying for the service but failing to make use of it would mean an immediate loss of the refund granted by the government.

The public consultation will be focusing on the implementation of the service. Anyone wishing to pass suggestions on to the ministry may do so by sending an emila on [email protected]. The consultation document can be found on www.edu.gov.mt/transportconsultation.

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