The radical overhaul of Canberra’s school bus system as part of the proposed new public transport network may see increased congestion around schools as parents switch to driving their children, according to one school’s body.
Association of Independent Schools Executive Director Andrew Rigley says the ‘foundational change’ to the way Canberra’s school buses operate will either see a massive flow of students away from dedicated school buses to route buses or a massive increase in the number of students being driven to schools.
“It stands to reason that if parents have concerns about getting their kids to and from school, what’s the alternative? The alternative is there is going to be some fairly significant increase in vehicle traffic around a school at crunch times. That’s something nobody wants,” he said.
Already there has been a strong reaction from parents about the changes, in which most school bus routes will be scrapped in favour of regular routes that Transport Canberra argues will have more frequent services past schools.
Parents are concerned about more bus changes, more time spent at interchanges and their children being on regular services instead of direct and dedicated buses.
In Weston Creek, Cooleman Court will virtually become a new interchange but as Alison Jones posted on the Community Council Facebook page, there are no facilities there.
“I gather kids from Duffy/Holder/Molonglo going to Mount Stromlo will have to catch two buses, going via Cooleman Court. And my two, going to Alfred Deakin, will have to catch three buses. Plus, there are no interchange facilities at Cooleman Court.”
Raeleigh Rogers says: “three buses for school kids to travel less than 10km? How long will a trip to school take? Sounds like very poor planning. Lots of kids in Molonglo Valley and Weston Creek currently attend Alfred Deakin High. Two buses and an hour to get to or from school is too much.”
Cath Collins says: “Its terrible for primary school kids in Weston. Weston school closed and kids are forced to go to Duffy or Arawang. Currently, a bus travels through Weston to Duffy primary – the new routes won’t – meaning primary school aged kids will have to walk to Holder, or parents will be forced to drive them.”
No doubt each suburban area will have similar concerns.
The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations (P&C) says parents do not want their children, particularly the younger ones, transiting through interchanges.
“Parents are concerned about safety – which the plan for customer-support staff may address – but interchanges also provide many distractions,” a spokesperson said.
“Parents also have a strong preference for dedicated school bus services, rather than kids travelling on route buses with the general public.”
Mr Wrigley said students travelled at peak times and would be competing with the general public for buses.
“If the bus is full and you’ve still got kids on the kerb what happens to them? Do they wait for the next bus which is supposedly coming in a much more rapid or quick time? That’s fine but the same thing might happen,” he said.
Mr Wrigley questioned the consultation process, saying a lack of data and detail, such as timetables that won’t be available till late in the year, made meaningful feedback about the changes almost impossible.
“It would be impossible for schools or parents to fully understand the impact, without looking at such things as timetables,” he said.
“I don’t know what they are going to do with the feedback, because bus network planning is not a small task. Is this actually a done deal, and we’re just going to trim around the edges, or is there some real options for considered consultations.”
The P&C body wants the new bus network to focus more closely on directly connecting high school students to their local high school.
“School kids don’t have the same needs as other commuters. If you are travelling to your local high school, it is often in a different direction to the main flow of bus commuters. So the hub-and-spoke system of transiting through interchanges, which is such a feature of the new network, often doesn’t make sense,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said a reasonable alternative would be the “s-trips” proposed by Transport Canberra, where specially marked regular route buses made a small diversion to their usual route to connect children directly to the school.
“These buses will likely have fewer members of the general public and more familiar faces. They could stop by default at the school, and deliver kids within sight of school staff,” the spokesperson said.
The P&C is urging families to provide feedback to Transport Canberra on whether the proposed services are suitable.
“It is important to get this right. We’d love to see more students getting to school by bus as this will reduce congestion around our schools,” the spokesperson said.
The Catholic Education Office said its main concern was the safety of students, particularly primary school children on route buses and transiting through interchanges.
The Principal of Mary Mackillop College Michael Lee said parents were angry at the changes, and he had received a continuous stream of negative emails since writing to the community last week.
He said parents felt the changes made it harder for their children to get to and from school, they would add to the length of the day and they were concerned for their children’s safety.
Mr Lee also noted that with 1,050 children leaving school at 3:15 pm he did not know how he could staff various bus stops around the school instead of the current school stops.
“I’m a bit concerned about the congregating of kids around bus stops and interchanges,” he said.
“School bus services are part of what it’s like in any first world country. This is potentially a backwards step.”
Merici College’s Principal Mrs Loretta Wholley has also written to parents outlining the changes and urging them to share their concerns.
She says that the Braddon school’s nine morning buses will be reduced to four and the 13 afternoon ones cut to four in 2019. There will only be two dedicated school routes and none from the southside.
The P&C body, the AIS and Catholic Education will all be making submissions to the consultation process.
For more information about the new school routes, to take the survey, and view Transport Canberra presentation dates go to https://www.yoursay.act.gov.au/rapid-bus-network