Motion: Feasibility of Free Transport for all Pupils
‘That this Assembly recognises the wide-ranging benefits associated with using public transport; notes with concern the increase in car traffic during school term time; recognises the financial strain on parents paying school transport costs and the administrative costs to implement the current school bus pass system, and calls on the Minister for Education, in conjunction with the Minister for Regional Development, to conduct a feasibility study into providing free public transport for all school pupils.’
Judith Cochrane MLA said: “Getting a child to school safely and on time can be a challenge. Some children are eligible for assistance with school transport from their local education and library board. Up until 1997, any child travelling more than this qualifying distance was eligible for a bus/train pass however, if a child is not attending their closest school, they are no longer eligible. There has been a resultant 10% increase in the number of children driven to school – this means that 2 in 5 children are now driven to school.
“For those of us who commute, we know how we enjoy the school holidays when traffic is so much lighter. Indeed 20% of cars on roads in urban areas at morning peak time of 08.50am are taking children to school.
“With an average number of around 48,250 post-primary students availing of the Home To School Transport Scheme each year, the average cost to the Department of Education equates to £31.6 million per year, or around £655 per head. In addition to this spending, the average annual cost of administering the scheme is around £1.85 million pounds, or, looking at the figure another way, the administrative costs were equivalent to an extra 2,825 school children availing a free school transport service.
“There are several benefits to providing free public transport for all school pupils. It would reduce the burden on parents from having to safely drop off and pick up their children from school. Statistics show that you are nine times less likely to be involved in an accident if you travel by public transport.
“Environmentally it would also reduce our carbon emissions as a single bus will emit fewer fumes than 20 cars combined. Trains are even better with the emissions being half per passenger per kilometer than a private car.
“Public transport is a more active form of transport in terms of the health benefits that it would bring especially in terms of reducing the risk of obesity. A nine minute walk to a bus stop or train station is about a third of your daily exercise requirement.
“The motion I am proposing does not call directly upon one Minister in isolation, but rather calls upon the Minister for Education, in conjunction with the Minister for Regional Development to conduct a feasibility study into providing free public transport for all school pupils.
“I know that the Department for Regional Development will perhaps have a little more experience in undertaking such studies and delivering programmes when we consider the travel concessions afforded to our over-60s population. Why don’t we look to also providing this service to our school children?”