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As part of new public health advice that was changed over a week ago, buses carrying secondary school students operate a 50 percent capacity. However, there are major concerns that many private operators won't be able to meet these rules leading to removal of their services and hundreds of students without any way of getting to school. I'm joined now by the owner of Britain's transport in Maynooth. He's spokesperson for the Tourism and Transport Council, Froogle Barton Fergin.

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Good morning. Good morning. Thanks for having us. Now let's talk about how many children actually use the school bus service and how it is planned with reduced capacity to meet the needs of all of those students.

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Well, I suppose we've got two distinct systems in Ireland. One is the school transport system, where it has about 120000 children carried a day. And that's done through the Department of Education and the bus and services. So around four and a half thousand vehicles. And that's including small taxi services also. And the private operators would supply about 90 percent of those vehicles to there and to operate the system. The second system that's operated probably in every county in Ireland would be individual private rooms, that operators would deal directly with parents or schools and that they would pay the operators for the service throughout the year.

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So there's the two distinctive systems that are operating at the moment.

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Now, there is a third system, of course, which is public transport and the normal bus services that many students will be using as well. Have we any feedback so far, given that the schools have resumed, as to how many kids are finding it difficult to get any kind of a coach or a bus to school?

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So, yes, the public transport is an extra system. And there has been obviously removal of some of the bus terminal services, certainly in the Dublin area. And I don't think we probably have seen the difficulties that would cause just yet. And maybe the next week or two that will that will be seen with regard to the school transport that was there and operates certainly this week. The numbers are at low capacity because a number of schools are only bringing in maybe one or two years per day.

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So we certainly haven't operated up to 100 percent capacity. The mode and then of the private services operators that are continuing to do their private services would have engaged contracts with the parents for the fees for the next number of months or maybe over two, two serious bases that would pay up to Christmas and then after Christmas.

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Now, the capacity in those let's talk about those private companies that are engaged directly by parents who've decided this is the best way to get their kids to school. Is there any crisis there?

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Yeah, that's where one of the major challenges is. Obviously, Boesen are working on the direct impact from education and from the letter that was sent on the 18th of August. And they are now engaging in a process to probably bring on more extra services to reduce the capacity on the post primary services that they're operating for the Department of Education. On the private operators. Decisions have to be made, obviously, over the next number of weeks, probably this week with regard to whether they continue the service.

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They have two options. One option is to continue to service up to 100 percent capacity like and are doing at the moment for a period of time, or they reduce their capacity straightaway to 50 percent. And if that happens, there can only be one or two things that happened, either the removal of the service because it's not going to pay or else parents will be charged, probably double for the services and extra vehicles will have to be put on.

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So that's causing a huge challenge for operators that are directly dealing with parents and private school runs this week. Those private operators, presumably they get no help in terms of sanitizers and disinfecting of vehicles overnight, all of that?

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No, they're on their own and is on those services with regard to the school transport system, operator of a bus there. And there has been a fund set aside, 11 and a half million fund set aside. Now, one of the elements of that is that, you know, private operators have struggled, obviously, since March of this year. There's one of the the industries that would been devastated throughout tourism, private hire and schools set up one and a half million fund was certainly welcome.

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Unfortunately, today, none of that has been passed down to the operators and an allowance has been muted. But a number of operators feel that this alone is not sufficient. Between 450 and 850 days is simply not sufficient to put in place the mechanisms that the department wants us to put into place, such as Piaggio for the drivers hand sanitisation and an extensive extra cleaning process that will be required. So that's on the on the state run services, but on the private road services, there is no allowances and no compensation made for any of those.

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So let's clarify. Private buses that are working for the state system are going to get between four euro 50 and eight euro 50 per day for sanitisation, for cleaning and the provision of PPE.

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You've made a comparison between what, Boston and Dublin bus who have to cover. So these public service obligation routes, they're given 50 euros extra per day to cover the extra cleaning costs and the PPE gear for drivers.

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Why the disparity? I don't know is the is the simple answer, I presume, obviously, the department are being very cautious with their budget and where we may not get to the level that the public routes are operating. We certainly feel that a vehicle working on a daily basis with primary and secondary school children and having to bring somebody into clean as an extra service provider incentivization and provide the driver gear 850 is simply not sufficient on that element of it. So, yes, there's definitely a discrepancy between the two.

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And obviously we have engaged with the Department of Education to try and find out what how we can move forward with that.

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Yeah, no, tell me this. What is the regime that the department wants you as private operators, private providers of coaches to the the school bus service.

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What exactly do they want you to do? OK, well in advance, of course, they want to let you know even before we get into the cleaning process in advance of going back to the operators, would have had to put extra measures in place, such as the new safety statement, such as employer back to work health questionnaires, risk assessment reports would have had to be done. Drivers would have to come in and get trained. Any drivers that hadn't been watching before would have to get galavanting.

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So that will be standard before we come back to work. Then the vehicles, of course, would have to have their joeys and date and to be inspected.

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But they have to do that to happen. You know, drivers should be trained anyway if they haven't worked for you before.

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But in terms of covid-19, what precisely do they want you to do overnight before the bus is used to carry children the next day?

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OK, so the precise ranges that would be in place, first of all, if you look at the driver who is wearing the mask, you would have to wear a visor if if a protective shield is not around them. That's a that's the driver's procedure. All vehicles would have to have hand sanitizer on it and they would have to be obviously refilled on a daily basis. It after each service that the driver then must wipe down the vehicle with all the touch points in the vehicle.

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And when he finishes in service in the morning, then the vehicle would get cleaned out at that point. So a cleaning at that point before he comes back in the afternoon, then he would wipe down the vehicle again and again after he serves a full wipe down service and a cleaning. And then each evening then a proper full cleaning service would have to be provided for the vehicle. So somebody would have to come in and put an extra cleaning service in that.

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So that's quite a good deal of mechanism regarding the cleaning process to make sure that they want to do this for eight euro fifty per coach.

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Correct. And that's where the difficulty lies. We feel and the operators feel. And remember, these operators haven't received any revenue to date since March. So there's that there's an element that obviously operators will struggle to to meet all those needs and certainly in the short term, until the revenue starts coming back in from school transport services.

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Now, the issue, of course, is whether or not they pull out of this business, but they don't really have too many alternatives. I mean, coach tours are dead and in the water at the moment. So maybe they'll do this just because there's nothing else but going forward.

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If other businesses return, they possibly won't want to depend on the school.

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I mean, there will be the will. Absolutely. And remember, if you're if there is an opportunity moving forward now for potentially tour vehicles to come on board to the grand scheme. But remember, the revenue that you receive from those services will not be the same revenue that you would receive for extended tours. So you may have a vehicle worth 250000 euros and you may say it's not going to work on tourism until next year. And you may decide I'm going to put it on to school contract, you know, the revenue we've receive.

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And that will be nothing towards the pay offs throughout the Nazi period of time.

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Yeah, yeah. It's going to be very difficult.

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One of the projects happening then, Furcula, what is going to be the outcome of all of this?

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I think at the private services, I think some some operators will will cease operating private service or less clear guidelines are given. In other words, the less clear guidance given say, if you were if you were operating in a private service, do you have a lead in process? Do you have a lead in time that it has to be done by? If you engage with parents and you clearly tell the parents what you were going to do with regard to cleaning, with regard to maths, and and you have a private contract with those parents and they're happy for you to continue rather than putting 100, 120 extra cars to the school.

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Will private operators be allowed to continue with that on the school transport services? I do expect to see more people coming into the industry because we're going to need more vehicles. But I see a challenge in getting drivers to come in because one of the elements is that the hours are very, very small. If you do a school transport services and people simply won't want to come off covid or they will want to come out of the job seeker scheme to come into school transport services.

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So that's going to be challenging. Even though there will be opportunities, it will definitely be challenging to employ people in the industry minister.

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All alright. On that note, the owner of Britain's transport, a spokesperson for the Tourism and Transport Council, Fergal Barton, thank you very much.

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