Board to consider transport changes

THE Department of Education needs to seriously reconsider the amount of money spent on school bus passes, which cost around £650 per child.

That’s the message coming from a meeting some local politicians had with the Southern Education and Library Board in light of planned changes to the school transport system in Dromore.

Last month the SELB announced the cancellation of bus passes for some Banbridge Academy schoolchildren within the 30mph speed limit area in Dromore - a move which will save the Board £100,000.

Parents expressed their outrage at the move which they said “discriminated” against some children who live in urban areas who will now only be able to avail of one Board bus service to and from school each weekday. Other children who will retain their bus passes will be able to travel to school on Translink buses free of charge.

Other parents highlighted their safety concerns about children who will now be dropped off at Church Square in Banbridge instead of at the front of the school.

A delegation of local DUP politicians held a meeting with the SELB Chief Executive Tony Murphy last week to discuss concerns over the new transport arrangements.

The SELB agreed to look again at some of the changes, but only when the changes as currently proposed are implemented in September.

A spokesman said: “Having outlined the Board’s position, SELB Chief Executive Tony Murphy agreed to give due consideration to several suggestions made by the MLAs including those in respect of schedules and drop-off points.

“However, it is not envisaged that any of the proposed changes could be introduced until the new bus services have been established next term and will only be implemented if the Board is satisfied that the proposals do not adversely affect other scheduled timetables.”

Mr Murphy refuted suggestions of discrimination, saying the Board does not have any obligation to provide “like for like” services in the area.

Assembly members Paul Givan, Brenda Hale and Jonathan Craig said Mr Murphy was left with an absolute understanding that parents in the area were unhappy with the proposed changes.

“Following the meeting the Board said they are prepared to look at providing alternative times for the two board buses to leave Dromore in the mornings which could facilitate some children that have extra circular activities before school starts,” said Mr Givan. “They have also agreed to consider dropping off the school children directly at the school following health and safety concerns being raised with them.”

Mrs Hale and Mr Craig, who are both members of the Education Committee at Stormont said they will push the issue of high transport costs with the Department.

‘We are concerned at the costs being charged by Translink for the provision of bus passes,” said the two MLAs. “At almost £650 per pass we believe Translink must provide evidence to justify this expense and through our membership of the Education Committee at Stormont we will be asking questions and putting pressure on the Education Department to ensure value for money.

“It would be inappropriate for money allocated for Education to be used for subsiding Translink because the key driver for the changes in Dromore is a result of escalating costs.”