Flemish mobility minister Lydia Peeters (Open VLD) has promised to take action to tackle the hours-long travel to and from school experienced by children in the special education system.
Peeters was reacting to stories in the press earlier this week of children who were forced to sit on a school bus for up to five hours at a time, both ways, simply to travel to school. That extreme case involved a special school in Buggenhout in East Flanders, but other stories were concerned with travel of shorter times, but still counted in hours, and which still left students with no time to themselves when they arrived home, and in some cases no appetite for food.
The problem seems to be that the schools contract for bus services with public transport authority De Lijn, but while the number of buses is limited, the students are spread widely across the region, forcing the buses to take a circuitous route to pick everyone up and later to take them home.
In a statement issued this week, Peeters described the situation as “unacceptable” and called on De Lijn to deliver a reckoning of how many students are involved, and give details of the routes followed.
"I want to find a structural solution and that is only possible if we objectify the debate with correct figures," she said. “The best practices that come from the current pilot projects must now also be rolled out throughout Flanders.”
Peeters will also bring the subject up with her fellow ministers when the regional government meets on Friday.
The pilot projects referred to have been in operation in Antwerp, Leuven and Roeselare since 2016, and are supposed to run until the end of 2022. However Peeters now wants to call together the steering committee in charge, so see if there are lessons which could be implemented before then.
“The solution has to come quickly. I read and hear that some children are on the bus for three to four hours to even five hours a day. That is unacceptable from a human point of view. It is a complex problem that we are not only going to solve by bringing in extra buses, but for which we also have to do the necessary thinking in order to arrive at a structural solution.”
Meanwhile De Lijn said it was aware of the problem.
“As De Lijn, we receive limited resources to plan and implement student transport as well as possible. We also try to use these resources as creatively as possible," the authority said.