Local bus drivers are to gather in Derry today for the launch of a campaign against proposed school bus charges.
The ‘Hands Off Free School Transport’ campaign launch will take place at Pennyburn Garage on Wednesday morning from 11am, with Education Authority and Ulsterbus drivers taking part.
Unite the union, which represents the majority of bus drivers providing school transport services across the north, is co-ordinating a campaign across the north.
Speaking ahead of the launch, and on behalf of Unite’s Education Authority bus drivers, Ciaran McCallion, said:
“Education bus drivers and Ulsterbus drivers are joining forces to launch Unite’s campaign against charges for school transport set to be introduced in September 2017.
“The chair of the Education Authority has stated due to swingeing austerity cuts, households will face paying between £50 and £200 a child for school transport. We will not be accepting that.
“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 deeply angered by this proposal and we are determined to defend the right of children to go to school.
“We will fight this all the way but we are asking the political parties to clarify their stance on this issue. To put the maximum pressure on them, Unite has set up an online petition and our drivers will be distributing leaflets to the children to pass onto their parents”, Mr McCallion finished.
Joining him today will be Alan Doherty, Unite representative for Ulsterbus in the city, who said: “Our drivers are very deeply concerned by this proposal. Not only is this another stealth tax on working households but as proposed it will be a flat-tax which is deeply regressive and will fall heaviest on lower income families.
“What’s possibly even more concerning is the likely impact this will have by encouraging parents to use private transport to avoid the charge. This will mean more congestion on our roads, it will mean more pollution from noxious exhaust fumes and it will directly undermine the long-term viability of rural and borderline profitable routes.
“We are calling for the public to back our campaign, sign the petition and like our Facebook page. Every driver is committed to defeating this attack on free school transport. We stand ready to take action but we hope the politicians will see sense, ditch this proposal and get their ‘Hands Off Free School Transport’”, Mr Doherty added.
Responding to the concerns raised, Education Authority Chief Executive, Gavin Boyd said:
“The Education Authority (EA) is facing significant financial challenges. This means that we cannot continue to do all of the same things in all of the same ways as we have done in the past.
“For some time now we have been considering every aspect of our spending and service delivery.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
For more on the campaign see www.facebook.com/HandsOffFreeSchoolTransport/
or check out the 38 Degrees petition page at: you.38degrees.org.uk/p/HandsOffFreeSchoolTransport