Jim Boult: Ministry must review school bus decision

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Incensed is a strong word, but I think I am!

I’ve recently been informed that the Ministry of Education has decided it is time to remove the school bus services in the Wakatipu where other public transport services are available.

My current understanding is these changes take place for secondary students at the beginning of first term 2018, and for primary students, beginning second term.

This decision is apparently based on the fact we are shortly to introduce our new ‘$2 bus’ with revised routes and schedules, and the fact school children will be able to use the service for a reduced student rate of $1.50.

According to ministry criteria this means they no longer need to be responsible for providing school bus transport.

From a financial perspective this means the ministry saves the operational cost of running the school bus system and transfers this burden to our district’s ratepayers who are significantly subsidising the new bus services directly through Queenstown Lakes District Council and Otago Regional Council rates. And on to families – two children at school results in a cost of $30 per week.

I’m struggling to understand the criteria that have brought the ministry to the conclusion this is appropriate or acceptable.

The primary aim of the new $2 bus is to provide a viable alternative form of transport for locals and commuters in a targeted effort to reduce our reliance on private cars. Given the significant numbers of our children who travel on the school service, and the transfer of this load to our fledgling but fantastic public transport service, the likely outcome could be a flooding of the new service and a consequential deterrent for commuters riding the new buses.

This is exactly what we don’t want to occur. While I’m writing this, I’m getting even more grumpy at the thought of it!

Here we are trying to do something worthwhile to resolve congestion on our roads through a well-thought-out public transport system and there’s a real chance this could be undermined by the actions of a central government ministry.

The further concern is I don’t believe all parents in the district will be particularly happy putting their five- and six-year-olds on a public transport system in the hope they will eventually turn up at school.

We do live in an area that is generally safe for all of the community but some parents will be understandably concerned about their young children mixing with unknown adults on a public transport system.

We have had a perfectly good (albeit with a few speed bumps from time to time) school bus service in our district for years.

QLDC has invested time and resources into providing a sustainable and viable solution to traffic congestion, so it is incomprehensible the ministry has decided to use this opportunity to relinquish its responsibilities.

I have written to the Minister of Education and asked the ministry to review this decision.

Unfortunately, this has come about right in the middle of a settling-down period for whatever new government is formed so the timing is not perfect.

I do, however, look forward to some common sense being applied in this matter.

Jim Boult is the Queenstown Lakes mayor.