Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Boards in £38m taxi bill shocker

MP hits out at 'horrific' costs of school transport

Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards have paid out more than £38m in taxi fares to ferry pupils to and from schools in the last five years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

In total, the five Education and Library Boards have run up a bill of £310m on transport costs since 2002, with 12% of this figure spent on taxis.

The figures were released by Education Minister Caitriona Ruane in response to an Assembly question by Sammy Wilson.

The DUP MP asked the Minister to detail the cost of school transport in each Education and Library Board for each of the last five years.

Mr Wilson said he was horrified by the amount of money being spent and called for Ms Ruane to review transport provision.

"It's time the Minister looks at this situation," Mr Wilson said.

"I also cannot understand why it is necessary to use taxis, which are the most expensive form of transport for delivering youngsters to school.

"I'm not sure how many children are taken to and from school by taxi but it would be interesting to find out."

Mr Wilson also hit out at the amount of money the boards were spending on school buses. He blamed the policy of ending three-for-two seating on school buses which he branded as "hysterical nonsense".

"It is made even more ironic by the fact that schools are encouraging children to bike to school when more children are killed and injured while on bikes in a year than on school buses," he said.

The total annual expenditure through the provision of home-to-school transport has risen steadily since 2002 from £57m to £65m during the last academic year, the figures have shown.

Mr Wilson, chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, also asked Ms Ruane for a breakdown of transport costs according to the type of school.

While the figures for the controlled and maintained sector in 2006/07 did not include information from the BELB, the Minister said that over £39m was spent by the remaining four boards. During the same period, the voluntary grammar sector spent over £15m, the integrated sector spent almost £4m, while the bill for the transport of pupils attending Irish-Medium schools was just over £313,000.

A Department of Education spokesperson said: "In determining the mode of transport for pupils, Education and Library Boards are expected to have regard to both the efficient use of resources and any specific needs which a pupil may have.

"Education and Library Boards provide taxi services for two groups - pupils with statements of Special Educational Needs that specify the provision of a taxi and those who live on routes where there are insufficient numbers to make bus travel an economic proposal. "

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