Cabbie to the rescue of 'stranded' north Belfast primary school pupils
Cabbie to the rescue of 'stranded' pupils
A local taxi firm has had to come to the rescue of up to 30 primary school children in north Belfast after they were left "stranded" by Translink.
Pupils at Cliftonville Integrated Primary School have had to avail of a rescue package set up by the parent of a primary six pupil and manager of Standard Taxis John Millar, after their only available bus service was cut with just a week's notice.
The service which accommodated children from the Shankill area was scrapped after Translink deemed it unsustainable due to low passenger numbers.
Parent concern had been raised for the safety of the children, who use the route to negotiate an interface area, amid heightened tensions in recent months.
Last year, the bus taking the children to and from school was attacked at least four times and parents have had to take to walking daily alternate routes to avoid being recognised and targeted.
This week a rescue package was launched by Standard Taxis' owner Jim Anderson after he was told of the situation by Mr Millar.
"My son is nine-years-old and I know how vital the service was to getting him to and from school and it was a real shock to hear that Translink were just doing away with the service with next to know notice," said Mr Millar.
"It's disappointing because it's a really good school and provides a good education as an integrated school. It's going to make it even more difficult for kids to access if there is no transport available to them.
"I talked with the owner of Standard and told him the situation and to his credit he was eager to help, as were the two drivers of the taxi-buses.
"A notice has been sent out to parents to let them know that there will be a service available for £1 a day. It's not ideal but at the end of the day its about getting the kids to and from school safely.
"The best case scenario for the everyone involved would be for the service to be put back on but until then were are working hard to build up a rapport with the children that are using the service and building their confidence in the drivers so that they feel safe when travelling to school."
The school's principal, Brenda McMullen, said she was angry at the lack of interaction from Translink before cutting the service.
"I understand that Translink are a business and they are taking a strictly statistical approach to this but how is it that our class sizes and pupil numbers are growing so significantly and yet they are cutting services?
"We've had next to no dialogue from them since an email was sent to say that the service was going. If they had talked to us we could have shown them that year on year our pupil numbers are growing and that next year there will be almost double the amount of children using the service as there is now."
A spokesperson for Translink said that they had engaged directly with all parties.
"We continually monitor all our bus services to ensure we operate as efficiently as possible.
"Unfortunately, due to consistently low passenger numbers this particular service was unsustainable.
"We have engaged directly with the school, parents, education and library board along with local representatives to discuss alternative transport arrangements.
"We will be happy to further discuss this matter directly with school representatives."