School bus blow

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Bussing to school will no longer be free for hundreds of Wakatipu High students.

The Education Ministry’s pulling its school bus service next year for students who can travel on the district’s expanded public transport system.

Currently 809, or 88 per cent, of Wakatipu High’s 922 students travel by school bus to and from Fryer Street, in central Queens-town.

From next year, at its new campus at Remarkables Park, students will pay $1.50 a trip, compared to $2 for everyone else.

That’s $150 a term or $600 a year.

Dad-of-two John Scobie, of Arrowtown, reckons many parents may car-pool to take their children to school.

“No one wants an increased cost, particularly when you’ve got more than one student.”

Wakatipu High principal Steve Hall says it’ll be a big change and costs will “definitely mount up” for some families.

It’s a fresh blow for parents already struggling with the resort’s high living costs.

There’s no promise the expanded service, run by the Otago Regional Council (ORC), will fit in with the school timetable.

Many students will have to change buses at the Frankton bus shelter or walk from there.

Free school buses will remain only for those students living beyond the new public bus network – in Glenorchy or Gibbston, for example.

Hall says Queenstown has crossed a threshold with the ministry.

“Their position is, if there’s a suitable public system in place, they don’t run buses.”

He’s hoping ministry and ORC representatives will address an information evening mid-next month to let parents know what the new timetables and routes will be.

The ministry has broad timetable guidelines – that students can be picked up any time after 7am and anything up to an hour after school.

Hall: “It does feel less than ideal.”

He also concedes that parents of some younger students mightn’t want them sharing buses with adults.

It’s thought local primary schools will continue to use the school bus service, for now.

Asked to comment, ministry head of infrastructure services, Kim Shannon, says: “We are working closely with schools and the ORC to ensure good transport options are available for students in the Wakatipu Basin.”

The ORC, not the ministry, sets the fares.

“While the safety and welfare of students is always paramount, decisions on how children get to school rest with their parents and caregivers.

“We will continue to provide school transport assistance where public transport is not available, and the ministry’s eligibility criteria are met.

“But we note that for several years now there have been public bus options in the Wakatipu Basin, and the ORC is expanding its services in Queenstown, targeting the student market.”

Queenstown’s expanded bus service is scheduled to start in late November.

scoop@scene.co.nz