URGENT action is needed to train and recruit new school bus drivers to prevent further disruption for Fermanagh families in future.
While there hasn’t been a repeat of the chaos seen at the start of this academic year, when hundreds of local pupils were left without a bus to school due to a combination of Covid absences and shrinking number of local school bus drivers, the precarious situation was highlighted again in recent times.
Cllr Sheamus Greene is a school bus driver, ferrying pupils from some of the most rural corners of the county. Cllr Greene recently suffered a leg injury and was unable to work, which left the children from his route without a bus for a number of days as no relief driver was available.
A private operator had to be hired in by Education Authority (EA) to take on the route while Cllr Green recovers.
Speaking to the Herald, Cllr Greene said much more needed to be done by the EA to hire new drivers.
“It’s an ongoing issue that there is a shortage of drivers, there’s a shortage of relief drivers and a quite a big proportion of drivers are in their late 60s and 70s. There doesn’t seem to have been a plan put together,” he said.
Cllr Greene explained the EA used to train its own school drivers, but no longer did so. He called on the body to reintroduce this training, instead of just posting adverts for the jobs.
“Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a big push to get the numbers of drivers and relief drivers,” he said, noting other incentives such as increased pay could also help boost recruitment.
“There’s not a big incentive for people to do these jobs, and it’s not everyone it suits either. It’s a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. Technically it’s not a full time job. You need to have something else as well to be able to survive.”
Noting the Covid disruption back in September, Cllr Greene said the virus had simply “accelerated the problem” and now he had “never seen it so bad.”
“The problem was always coming down the tracks, it’s just that Covid has probably highlighted it more,” he said.
Cllr Greene said he suspected it was a problem being replicated across rural areas in the North, and said it would also be impacting the environment, with scores of family cars having to take to the roads every time a bus was not operating.
“It’s a continuing problem, and I can’t foresee it’s going to get any better,” he said.
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