By Peter Stevenson
THE new €15 monthly bus-fare for secondary school students introduced on Tuesday is another blow to the educational system, according to student body PSEM.
“Two months ago, the Education Ministry tried to intimidate students not to attend any PSEM demonstrations as it considered them unjustified,” PSEM leader Panayiotis Monoyios said.
He added that introducing the new fee was ‘criminal’ as it coincides with figures that show one in five students cannot afford the necessary school items and that more and more parents are unemployed or have had their salaries cut.
“We don’t have food to eat and they are asking us to pay for buses. Is this the future for our public education system?” Monoyios asked.
The first step that was decided following a meeting of parents, student and teachers unions, he added, is that students from secondary schools around Cyprus will abstain from the third period on Thursday.
“The aim is to make our voices heard so a real public dialogue can take place which will give us the opportunity to fight for the right to give free public transport to students,” Monoyios added.
The head of PSEM said the parents and teachers associations have stood by their side and called on bus drivers to also help the campaign by not demanding bus fares.
The Communications Ministry said on Wednesday that it would cooperate with the Education Ministry to keep an eye on the new fare scheme and did not rule out making any adjustments.
“Despite any legitimate complaints about the scheme, the majority of people responded responsibly,” a Communications Ministry statement said.
The Ministry clarified that the fare, that had been fully subsidised by the state in the past, was introduced by the previous government in December 2012 and was part of the bailout deal with the troika.
Primary school pupils are exempt from paying the fare, as are students whose families qualify for state welfare benefits.
“Through dialogue with the Education Ministry, parliament and student and parent associations, we have decided to exempt certain groups to help the needy,” the Communications Ministry said.
It added that various suggestions have been made about saving money from various other services but that the Ministry needed to save €10m from the public transport system.
The statement added that it was still discussing with bus companies and unions in an effort to reduce operating costs to help save money which could then be allocated to help needy students.
“In cases where groups would receive an exemption from paying the bus fare, savings would need to be made elsewhere,” the statement said.
The Ministry concluded that the budget, despite all good intentions, has been approved and any transgression could lead to the total collapse of the public transport system.
Opposition AKEL said introducing a charge was feasible but that that savings could be made from other sources.
In a letter, Childrens’ Commissioner Leda Koursoumba called on Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos to rethink the decision to introduce the bus fare. She said that free public transport is something which should be provided to all children regardless of their social standing.