Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster says that the coming months could be “catastrophic” for school transport operators, after the government failed to commit to dedicated measures to help the sector which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Primary and secondary schools across the country closed their doors to students as lockdown began in late-March and with students not back to school until September, with guidelines and measures yet to be confirmed, the school bus operators are looking at over five months without work.
Deputy Munster raised the issue with An Taoiseach Micheal Martin on Wednesday but he said the wage subsidy scheme was offering assistance to those bus operators.
“Transport companies that provide school transport abruptly lost their livelihoods in March, and given the extended period that schools have been closed, they have little prospect of generating income during the summer month” Deputy Munster said. “They have also been excluded from grant aid, as most of these operators do not pay rates.”
“These companies have no turnover, many are not in a position to take out loans at present and they have significant restart costs, with no grant aid available to them.”
The Drogheda-based TD said that measures for the sector should be included in the upcoming July stimulus plan, saying if not, “the consequences for this sector could be catastrophic.”
In response, the Taoiseach said the wage subsidy scheme “has been of help to businesses across all sectors. The July job stimulus programme will be of assistance for those in school transport in the general sense in terms of the range of supports that will be made available and opportunities to access funding.
“Of course the key enabler will be the reopening of the schools and the need for school transport services,” he added. However, Deputy Munster was disappointed with his answer.
“He offered no specific commitments to help the sector, which is a matter of huge concern. The representative body for these firms, the Federation of Transport Operators (FOTO) have written to the Minister for Transport, Éamon Ryan TD, outlining specific measures that would alleviate some of the existing difficulties, and I am calling on Minister Ryan and his government colleagues to ensure that their suggestions are taken on board.
“The July Stimulus Plan must address the needs of this sector. They cannot be left without any support any longer.”