Union brands school transport fee reports ‘alarming’

The Education Authority is reportedly looking at plans to scrap free school transport. Credit: Pacemaker

A union has branded reports that families could be charged £50-200 per child for school transport from September “deeply alarming”.

Pupils currently benefit from free transport to and from school if they live more than two miles from their primary school, or more than three miles from their secondary school.

However, the Education Authority is understood to be considering imposing charges due to cuts in their budget provided by the Northern Ireland Executive.

Unite the Union has said such a move would amount to a stealth tax.

Gareth Scott, Unite’s Regional Officer with responsibility for Education & Library Board drivers, said: “The impact of a flat rate charge will be highly regressive and impact those on lowest incomes disproportionately.

“If those on benefits are excluded, then the charges will fall on the just-about managing working families and will be equally objectionable.

“In addition, this measure will also constitute a stealth tax on rural communities who are most dependent on school transport services.”

Mr Scott added that the union will now engage with ELB bus drivers to determine a response.

“Our drivers have a strong commitment to defending free public transport for children going to school,” he added.

Unite in the Community Regional Coordinator, Albert Hewitt, also said that he feared the proposal was “being sneaked in under the shadow of an increasingly divisive election”.

He added: “Unless the NI Executive intervenes to halt this and provides adequate funding for school transport, our branches will work with drivers, parents, children, schools, local communities and local trades councils to build a people power campaign to defeat this proposal.

“There’s hundreds of millions spare to cut corporation tax, to subsidise wood burners, and for unnecessary voluntary exit schemes - but we are told there’s no money when it comes to our schools, our hospitals, or our buses."