T9. Mr Lyttle asked the Minister for Infrastructure to confirm that the Education Authority would require permission from the Department for Infrastructure's Driver and Vehicle Agency to change the operating licence of yellow school buses in order to introduce bus fares for pupils and to state whether he would oppose the introduction of such unfair charges. (AQT 664/16-21)
That may well be the situation, but I will have to clarify the issue of responsibility with officials. I think that there is an avenue for looking at school transport, and we as a party have looked at it. We spend far too much money on school transport — there are no two ways about it. We know that that is the case for a number of reasons, and we have to look at it. I sympathise with the Minister of Education and the Education Authority, which have to deal with being in that position with their budgets. There is no doubt that there is a way out of this. I have talked to Translink officials in recent weeks about delivering transport services such as home-to-school transport in a more efficient manner, and there are ways in which to do that.
I absolutely support the idea that, where it is practical and sensible, we need to transport our kids in a safe situation. What I do not agree with is some of the education policies set down on school transport that mean that some people cannot get a bus two or three miles down the road but others can be bused halfway across the world to go to a particular set of schools. At times, I got six buses a day to go to school, and I do not think that that is right. When it comes to school transport, we need to find a more sustainable way of going forward.
But again, without straying into Education matters, we need to find a more sustainable way to finance schools, never mind school transport.