Shelved Queenstown school bus slash plan revealed

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Eleven of 17 school bus services in the Wakatipu were for the chop before a dramatic Ministry of Education U-turn.

An August 4 letter – penned by the ministry’s director of school transport Keith Bolton and released to Mountain Scene under the Official Information Act – flags the services for “possible termination”.

They were: three from Frankton, the Arrowtown service and Arrowtown “express”, two Tucker Beach services, Kelvin Heights “secondary”, Closeburn, Dalefield and Morven Hill – although there were question marks later over the proposed Arrowtown cuts.

Only six services were set to continue, namely: Kelvin Heights “primary”, Gibbston Valley, Lake Hayes Estate, Glenorchy, Lake Hayes and Speargrass Flat.

The service-slashing plan, which shocked parents, principals and board members, would have lumped huge costs on families, possibly shoving hundreds of school kids onto public transport.

Only a few weeks after an August 7 bus summit the ministry backed down. But the fight’s not over yet.

Bolton’s letter was sent to Wakatipu High School, and Queenstown, Remarkables and St Joseph’s primary schools.

Connectabus services were described as “suitable” for students and a “transition process” was flagged by the start of next year.

Bolton’s letter reveals the intimate relationship between transport provider Connectabus and the ministry.

It lists an unnamed Connectabus representative as one of “our attendees” at the August 7 meeting of school reps at Remarkables Primary.

Writing in Mountain Scene last month, the ministry’s education infrastructure service head Kim Shannon says it had “slowed” the process after listening to feedback.

She adds: “We expect we will come up with a range of options in early 2015 for further discussion.”
So parents may be digging in for another battle.

Emails from three worried parents, passed to the ministry in early August, have been released to Mountain Scene.

A parent of a Remarkables School pupil raises concerns about the effect of the bus changes on the new $17 million Shotover Primary School’s roll.

The parent, from Lake Hayes Estate, says the family’s intention was to keep their children at Remarkables – but that changed in light of the ministry’s proposal.

“With the prospect of $2000 in bus passes a year and the children having to cross two very busy roads I can no longer see this being a possibility, something that we will all be very sad about,” the August 8 email says.

“Obviously, Shotover Primary will have its first phase open for the start of next year but I am now concerned that they will not have enough space for what may be a higher than expected opening roll.”

On the same day, another Remarkables Primary parent wrote: “Wow, school drop-off and pick-ups are going to go from crazy to ridiculous!

“Hope the school will be ready for the massive influx of cars.”

The parent of a Queenstown Primary School pupil was also worried about the Lake Hayes Estate route.

“I have major concerns about this if it results in having to send my two primary school age children on a bus with heaven knows which members of the public (in a town with a large transient population) on the Connectabus service,” the August 8 email says.

“I realise there is still more information to come but this raises some incredibly serious safety issues.”

In the 2013-2014 financial year, the ministry spent more than $1.1m on Wakatipu school buses – which are thought to carry hundreds of children a day – out of a national budget of about $175m, including transport for those with special education needs.

david@scene.co.nz