Northern Ireland news

Concerns over 'unreliable' bus service for disabled pupils in Armagh

Justin McNulty, SDLP assembly member for Newry and Armagh
Brendan Hughes

EDUCATION officials have been urged to review transport arrangements for pupils from Armagh attending a Belfast special school following complaints that their bus keeps breaking down.

A bus is provided by the Education Authority (EA) for several pupils with disabilities in Armagh to attend Fleming Fulton school in south Belfast.

But concerns have been raised that in recent months, pupils have been missing too many school days because of the bus service being cancelled due to mechanical problems.

There are also concerns that some journeys have been called off because no bus supervisor has been available.

The SDLP's Justin McNulty said the bus failed to turn up numerous times because of "mechanical issues" and, although it was replaced, "the issue persists as just last week the same problem happened again".

The Newry and Armagh MLA said the transport problems were unacceptable, asking: "Why should children with a disability have to accept a sub-standard, unreliable service?"

He added: "I have written again to the chief executive of the Education Authority and called for an urgent review of transportation from Armagh to Fleming Fulton special school, and in addition to that I want to see a backup plan put in place, so if a bus is unavailable because of mechanical or staffing issues, an alternative provision can be put in place. This must be resolved as a priority."

Fleming Fulton caters for pupils with physical disabilities and learning difficulties aged between three and 19.

An EA spokesman said that since September 2017 there have been nine non-operational days on the route, of which five were due to adverse weather and four were due to technical or mechanical problems with the bus.

"In response to this unusually high level of breakdowns a replacement vehicle was assigned to the route from February 5 2018," he said.

"EA provides transport assistance for nearly 89,000 pupils on a daily basis. The authority operates its own fleet of nearly 825 buses covering over 1,500 routes every day and on occasion vehicles may be subject to breakdown which regrettably can cause disruption to school transport."

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