There are currently no plans for parents who applied for free school transport but not get a seat on the bus to be compensated, Education Minister Evarist Bartolo told journalists on Friday.
Asked whether parents who applied but did not manage to get a spot on the free public transport service would be receiving any form of compensation, Bartolo replied that this was not being considered by the Ministry for moment, and that the priority remains to provide free public transport to everyone.
Bartolo said that there are currently 170 children still waiting for a place on the free school transport programme, noting that while this was down from 1,900 at the beginning of the scholastic year, the ministry would continue to work to get the number down to zero.
Asked by this newsroom – after receiving complaints from parents – whether the ministry would be working to improve the times at which children are picked up in the morning, Bartolo said that the ministry had been working on this matter from the very beginning, but admitted that it is easier said than done as each operator has conflicting demands and has to cater for all its routes – both for schools and for other services such as carrying people to their workplace.
“This is an issue, but we ask parents affected by this to come forward and talk to us individually and we will try to bend over backwards to find a solution”, Bartolo said.
Bartolo was addressing a press conference in front of the St. Joseph School in Tarxien, where he spoke of the positives of the introduction of free public transport for students at state, church and independent schools.
He said that through this measure, families are saving an average of €700 for every boy or girl and that the programme has removed at least 2,500 private cars from the roads surrounding school areas.
The minister also noted that the data protection commissioner has given the go ahead for the expansion of the surveillance pilot project, wherein students are given a fob to attach to their bag which will transmit the student’s location to an app so that parents can see the location of their children.
Bartolo said that this is a project that has to be handled with care, and the data protection commissioner had to be extra sure that the project is not infringing on any privacy. “Thank goodness, it was a pilot project and we will learn from it and extend it gradually and sustainably in the coming weeks”, the minister said.
Education Ministry Permanent Secretary Francis Fabri said that a total of 12,500 students from state schools were benefitting from the system, along with a further 14,000 students in church and independent schools.
Fabri explained that in reality these were two separate schemes which are operated in different manners; in the case of state schools, the system is wholly administered by the Education Ministry, but in the case of church and independent schools, the Ministry acts as a regulator more than an operator.
He explained that the government has an agreement with 200 or so different operators stipulating various conditions such as the type of vehicles used, distance covered, and amount of students carried but it is then up to each operator to operate the system.
He said that parents of children in church or independent schools should arrange directly with these transport operators and not the ministry, and he appealed to parents to not leave arrangements for the upcoming scholastic year to the last minute.
Video & photo: Eva Krins
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