Families speak out on bus pain – and Ministry’s view

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Parents have labelled the decision to scrap Queenstown school buses as shambolic, disastrous, unsafe and upsetting.

Ministry of Education bods have announced it’s pulling the service – from term one next year for high school pupils and term two for primary schools.

The ruling leaves kids relying on the new expanded public transport system.

Parents will also have to stump up about $150 per child, per term.

Shotover Country mum-of-three Theresa Swain is peeved and won’t be putting her kids on a public bus.

Two attend Wakatipu High and her youngest goes to St Joseph’s primary school.

She thinks many families will struggle.

“It is hard enough to live in this town and we are all struggling,” Swain says.

“The bus fare times-three, we can’t do it and will be driving.”

Swain isn’t the only one with concerns.

Fiona Brabant, who lives in Arthurs Point with hubby Michael and youngsters Louis, Lily and Tom, is annoyed her youngest two will have to catch three buses.

Michael questions viability.

“You can’t just say, ‘there you go, this is changed’. If you are going to do that you need to make sure it works in your community.

“That’s the crux of it – you just know it is going to be an absolute shambles.

“[It is] likely to be chaotic with so many kids trying to get to school at the same time.”

They reckon day workers won’t want to commute with rowdy teenagers.

Michael thinks it’ll result in more parents driving kiddies to school – or students getting behind the wheel.

It’s what 16-year-old Lily will likely do. She questions capacity.

“Also, it is going to work out quite expensive – what about families that can’t afford it? It is going to be really hard for them.”

The Bailey family: Fran, Alex, 15, Tom, 13, and Joe live in Shotover Country with Tom’s twin Ollie

The Bailey family, who live in Shotover Country, say they’ll feel the pinch.

Twins Tom and Ollie are Wakatipu High-bound next year.

Mum Fran says the bills will come thick and fast.

Double school fees, uniforms and computers – and the added cost of two bus fares.

“It is terribly sad because Queenstown is such an individual place. From a cost and safety point of view I just don’t know how it is going to work.

“The prospect of kids being on various shuttle buses and waiting around I think is going to cause problems. From a financial point of view it is a disaster really – adding that [cost] to your week as well as everything else.

“We have lived in Auckland and as a comparison it is exceptionally expensive to live here.”

louises@scene.co.nz

Education Ministry infrastructure service boss Kim Shannon’s response to last week’s Mountain Scene opinion piece by Queenstown’s mayor Jim Boult: 

There’s been understandable concern from the Queenstown Lakes community about upcoming changes to local school bus services, particularly from parents and caregivers of primary school children.

The recent piece by Queenstown Lakes District Council Mayor Jim Boult has highlighted that there may be some misunderstanding about who is responsible for getting kids to school and who local bus services are operated by.

In Queenstown, the new public transport network that is being rolled out from November is operated by the Otago Regional Council – that’s why we’ve been working very closely with them to ensure that their new network meets the needs of school students.

The responsibility for getting students to school sits with parents and caregivers. It’s a long-standing Government policy to provide transport assistance if distance is a barrier to getting students to the closest school they can attend and there’s no public transport available. We will continue to help students who meet our criteria which is that they are: attending the closest school they can enrol at, live a distance from the school of at least 3.2km (for students in Years 1-8) or 4.8km (Years 9+) and there’s no public transport available. That assistance may be either a Ministry-funded bus or an allowance.

The eligibility criteria for transport assistance is applied as it should be – equally throughout the country. Most students in large towns and centres around the country are not eligible for Ministry-funded school transport because other options are available. Of almost 800,000 students nationwide, about 100,000 receive transport assistance, and that is directed at students who live rurally where there are limited travel options due to the lack of public transport. Across New Zealand, more students travel on public transport to get to school than receive our assistance.

There are many ways for children to travel to and from school safely. As well as using public transport, many students walk, or are part of a walking school bus – a community-based solution that schools can help develop, is better for traffic congestion and brings neighbours together at the same time.

We’ve been working with the Otago Regional Council since 2013 on the future of local school transport services. This work was prompted by significant population growth in the Wakatipu Basin which put increasing pressure on the current transport network and meant changes had to be made to meet Queenstown’s needs.  The introduction of the new public transport network, along with the new location of the high school means there is now a significantly different environment for school transport.

The regional council is keen to transport students as part of the new public transport network and is working with us and affected schools to fully understand demand patterns.  The new routes will provide more choice and flexibility for getting to and from school, including after school activities. That means the new services offer significant benefits over the Ministry’s services.

To help ease the school community into the new changes we are implementing a phased approach which starts with high school students in Term 1 next year and primary school students from later in the year – once we have all better understood their particular needs.  We will continue to run bus routes for students where there’s no suitable public transport available.

So our work with the regional council hasn’t finished; we’re now helping develop a mixed transport model to make sure the needs of all of Queenstown’s students’ will be met. This involves continuing our talks with primary schools about transport options for their students. And we will continue to talk with all relevant parties, including schools and the wider community.

For more information:

Advice on developing safe solutions for school transport in communities is available from the New Zealand Transport Agency here: http://education.nzta.govt.nz/resources/school-community-partnerships

Details on the Ministry’s eligibility criteria for school transport assistance is available here: https://www.education.govt.nz/sta-eligibility/