Updated | 829 students in church and independent schools still waiting for transport

Efforts are underway by the education authorities to try and find transport solutions for 829 students in church and independent schools, who have so far been unable to benefit from the new free transport scheme

On-board supervision will only be provided on State school routes that have kindergarten childen
On-board supervision will only be provided on State school routes that have kindergarten childen

Updated at 3.30pm with PN reaction

There are more than 800 students in church and independent schools who are still without school transport just days before the start of the new scholastic year.

Education Minister Evarist Bartolo said there were 829 children on the waiting list and efforts were underway to try and find transport solutions for them.

The government has extended the free school transport system available for State schools to all schools as part of efforts to cut down on morning traffic.

However, the higher demand for school transport as a result of the scheme has led to a shortage of vans. Until last Thursday there were almost 1,000 students in church and independent schools without arrangements.

READ ALSO: No free school transport for 1,000 students in church and independent schools

The number has now dropped to 829 after the education authorities concluded contracts with more transport operators over the past 48 hours.

Bartolo told a press conference this morning that the number of transport operators currently signed up to the scheme stood at 75, up from the 18 operators that formed part of the scheme on 8 September.

“The more operators, the more service we can provide. We want as many parents and children to be served as possible,” Bartolo said, denying the free transport scheme was not thought out well.

He noted that parents of children who attend Church and independent schools used to make arrangements with the transport provider and this led to many different prices.

He said the government had concluded a five-year agreement establishing the rates for particular routes among the service providers, but parents were still free to choose the providers they wanted. 

“Negotiations were not easy… this is not an excuse, but we were introducing rules and a system where there was none. We care and therefore through the website channel we are reaching out to parents who haven’t found school transport yet,” Bartolo said.

The new scheme will see parents save approximately €700 on school transport. The minister said the market was previously unregulated and  abuses were rife.

"We are committed to continue working and ensuring that all the children who need transport will be transported to school. We will continue to do our best because every single child in this 829 list is a priority," he added, as he urged more transport operators to join the scheme.

Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Frank Fabri said a mapping exercise to match children to routes was ongoing. “The last update is that 829 people are waiting to be matched and these are decreasing every minute,” Fabri said.

Meanwhile, some 14,000 school children attending State schools will be using school transport, an increase of 1,500 over the previous year.

State schools will be serviced by eight operators that signed on a new contract.

“The logistics are all done by the Education Ministry with parents dealing with the ministry and not the service providers. New routes were worked out on a school by school basis and parents have been notified what route their children would be using and where they would be picked up from,” Fabri said.

A monitoring system will be gradually introduced by December that will allow parents to receive notifications that their children had boarded and alighted from the school bus, he added.

This system will also be extended to Church and independent school transport operators.

Fabri said the gradual approach was taken as it was felt there were too many new things being introduced at once.

However, for the time being, the pledge to have on-board supervision will only apply for State school routes with kindergarten children.

PN criticises government's lack of planning

Opposition education spokesperson Clyde Puli said the government was to blame for leaving many parents in a state of uncertainty over school transport arrangements just four days before children return to school.

Puli accused the Education Minister of failing to plan seriously for the introduction of free school transport for all students and urged the government to do all it can to find solutions for those who have been left out.

He also noted that the scheme does not include on-board supervision as had been promised.

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