The Flemish public transport authority De Lijn has worked out a plan to provide 32 extra buses to the special needs school system to relieve children from spending hours a day on the way to and from school.
When the new school year began at the start of this month, it was revealed that some children were spending up to five hours on a one-way trip to school. That was an extreme example, but others still had to be at the bus stop in the early morning light to catch a bus on which they would spend the next few hours.
Then, once the problem had been highlighted in the media, two buses on the first two days simply failed to turn up at all – apparently a missing order by De Lijn to an outside contractor.
Lydia Peeters (Open VLD), Flemish minister for mobility, sprang into action – although she might have been expected to be up to speed already – and demanded a solution. The government provided a budget of €1.8 million to provide buses for the special needs children. That has now been translated by De Lijn into a fleet of 32 buses.
The problem is that special needs children in both layers of the education system, primary and secondary, are scattered across the region, while De Lijn could only call on a small number of buses to transport them, on what was often a circuitous route.
The only solution was more money for buses – generally sub-contracted from a coach company, not the everyday fleet of De Lijn – and that is what the government had previously failed to provide, but now has.
“This means that some students may be on the bus a little longer, but that in any case there will no longer be a large number of students who have been on the bus for far too long, who have been on the bus for more than 3 hours,” Peeters said.
There will be new buses in every province in the region: five extra journeys in Limburg, four in Antwerp province, 14 in East Flanders, six in West Flanders and three in Flemish Brabant. The original issue was first raised for a school in Buggenhout in East Flanders.