Parents protest at withdrawal of bus passes for children on 'unsafe' rural road
PARENTS in Co Fermanagh have said they could be forced to pay an extra £50 per week to get their children to school.
More than 40 parents and children protested in Belleek early yesterday as they walked around 2km along a footpath towards St Mary's High School, Brollagh.
It is then a further 1.2 miles to the school along the B52, a winding road without a path and busy with cars and commercial vehicles.
Only children who live more than three miles from the school are guaranteed free transport under legislation, but pupils living closer had been allowed on buses in recent years because of spare capacity.
Angry parents said they only found out that they would no longer receive the concessionary passes in the last week of August.
One parent, Fionn Travers, said: “If we take a taxi it costs £10 per day and that is a total of £50 per week which is an enormous financial strain.
“And that is in addition to paying dinner money and of course this is a very expensive time for parents getting their children ready for school.
“They are asking us to take risks with our children's lives on a road that is clearly unsuitable.
“We want to show the EA (Education Authority) that the road is clearly unsafe. I would not even cycle it myself or walk it.
“I don't drive and I work and my husband works abroad so the only alternative is to get a taxi."
The parents claimed that two school buses, one with eight pupils on board and another carrying just one, passed them yesterday morning.
A spokesperson for the EA said its priority is to ensure the maximum number of eligible pupils can access school transport for the start of the school year and it is "only able to provide concessionary transport to non-eligible pupils when spare seats are available on its fleet of school buses".
“The number of pupils travelling on school transport routes will vary on a year-to-year basis and the availability of concessionary transport to any school cannot be guaranteed and parents are advised of this.
“All eligible children have been allocated seats on services operating to St Mary's Brollagh from September 2018 and in the absence of any spare capacity the authority is unable to provide concessionary transport.
“EA will conduct an assessment of the walking route; however, this cannot take place until normal school time traffic patterns are in place. The process for the assessment of a walking route requires a number of site visits and will take a number of weeks to fully complete.
“In the interim, it remains a parental responsibility for the parents of non-eligible pupils to make their own arrangements to get their children to and from school; and where parents do choose to walk it is reasonably assumed that parents will act responsibly and ensure their child is accompanied and that the pedestrian rules of the Highway Code are adhered to.
“EA will update all interested parties once the assessment has been completed.”