Bus drivers take action against threat to free school transport

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Bus drivers from Derry have launched a new campaign against proposals to start charging parents for school transport.

Unite union representatives joined school bus drivers from the Education Authority and Ulsterbus at the Pennyburn Garage to launch the local ‘Hands Off Free School Transport’ campaign this week, with representatives from People Before Profit also attending.

The drivers have warned that any move by the Education Authority to start charging for school journeys could have major implications for already hard pressed local families as well as for jobs.

The campaign is being rolled out across the north and local politicians have been called upon to make their views known on the proposals.

Speaking at the launch, EA bus driver Ciaran McCallion said families needed to be made aware that the charges being proposed for September, 2017 could see them forced to pay £50 to £200 per child.

He said: “This is yet another stealth tax on hard pressed working households. In this area, the education buses focus on transporting children with disabilities to school – what will happen if their families can’t afford the cost? Our drivers are angered at this proposal and we are determined to defend the right of children to go to school.”

Alan Doherty, Unite rep for Ulsterbus in Derry said any such fees were “deeply regressive and would fall heaviest on lower income families.”

Liam Gallagher, from Unite, said: “This will impact on a city where there is deep recession, very few people working, where children depend upon the buses and parents need to get their children to school.”

Education Authority Chief Executive, Gavin Boyd has responded that the body was “facing significant financial challenges.”

He said: “EA currently provides free home to school transport for around 90,000 pupils at a cost of £75m. Parents bear the cost of school transport for the majority of pupils (over 240,000)

“Transport reform is a key part of our review of services. A range of options are being considered including whether some parents may be asked to contribute to the costs of providing school transport. Any proposed change to existing home to school transport policy would be subject to the Department’s approval, full public consultation and equality impact assessment.”

An online petition has been started up against any charges at: you.38degrees.org.uk/p/HandsOffFreeSchoolTransport