Thousands more children to become eligible for free school transport

Minister for Education Norma Foley is working on expansion of scheme which will see students who live closer to schools become eligible for bus tickets

Thousands more children will become eligible for free school transport under plans being finalised by the Government.

The Irish Times has learned that Minister for Education Norma Foley is working on an expansion of the scheme which would see students’ families who live closer to schools become eligible for the tickets.

Under current thresholds primary school students who live more than 3.2km from their closest primary school and 4.8km for secondary schools are eligible for the tickets. It is understood Ms Foley has told Cabinet colleagues that, following a review of the scheme, the intention is now to lower those limits. This means many more children will become eligible for the ticket.

Sources would not be drawn on exactly when the mooted changes will come into effect, but the review encompasses the operation of the scheme out to 2030, suggesting it is unlikely to kick in immediately.


The families of 161,600 children benefit from the free transport scheme, but the plans outlined by the Kerry TD to a Cabinet subcommittee on education held on Thursday evening would see many more become eligible. Currently those children who live within existing limits are not eligible for the scheme and have to apply for a concessionary ticket allocated on a basis of availability for a bus seat once all eligible children have been catered for.

The scheme cost €382 million in 2023, according to a recent response to a parliamentary question.

In response to queries, a spokesman for Ms Foley said that the review of the scheme has recently been completed. “The final report includes recommendations on the operation and strategic development of the scheme. It is expected that the review will be brought to Government shortly and further to Government approval, the review will be published.”

The Irish Times last month reported that a review of the scheme found that while it is operating at a “considerable cost” it plays a key role in reducing climate emissions, supporting parents to work and providing access for children to school.

The review was triggered in recent years following concern within the Department of Public Expenditure over “unsustainable” costs as well as annual controversy over the volume of children who lose out on bus places.

Internal Department of Education records state that the review has been completed, and that it makes the case that the scheme supports wider Government policies in areas such as climate action, rural connectivity, tackling rural deprivation, supporting the labour market and working parents and fostering life skills for children.

“While operating at significant cost to the exchequer the school transport scheme has demonstrable wider economic benefits and offers a vital public service without which many families would struggle to find alternative modes of transport to and from school,” one record released to The Irish Times states.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times