9 July 2018

Fears school bus changes will drive parents to opt for the car as anger grows

| Ian Bushnell
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Dedicated school buses will be no more for many Canberra students. File Photo

Dedicated school buses will be no more for many Canberra students. File Photo

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

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I’m sorry, but if you live in Weston Creek, I would assume your local high school would be Stromlo. The PEA for Alfred Deakin is Curtin, part of Deakin, Garran, Hughes, Lyons, Yarralumla. and part of Phillip, so anyone who lives out of that area should not necessarily expect a direct school route. That is the compromise for attending an out-of-area school.

Similarly for Merici, there is no logical reason why anyone should expect a bus to service the southside from that school. There is already an equivalent school in Canberra’s south (St Clare’s), so one would assume most students in that part of town would be attending the more convenient school, and those who opt otherwise understand that they are not entitled to a direct bus service.

I am not suggesting that the new network is a great solution, but the arguments must be considered. Also, I would assume that most (if not all) high school-aged students would be able to manage the public bus system, particularly if the changeover is somewhere small like Cooleman Court and not in Woden or the City.

Queanbeyanite6:18 pm 17 Jul 18

Well, at least you won’t have to put up with our feral Queanbeyan kids, they’ve been ‘purged’ for the ACT schools system.

Capital Retro10:46 am 10 Jul 18

I wonder which school bus service is used by the Chief Minister’s children.

Thought you’d have realised by now that Barr doesn’t give a rats about the trivialities faced by every day Canberras such as school bus times, traffic congestion, hospital wait times, over crowded schools etc. It’s all about the next big project to stick his name to; Lightfail Stage 1 & 2, Manuka Oval redevelopment, convention centres etc. Get back to basics Barr and people might remember you for.

Capital Retro8:01 pm 11 Jul 18

That appears to be correct but the ones that predominantly use public transport appear to continually vote for the party he represents.

ACT Government asking people to have their say but where is the information to enable us to have our say. Publish the fares, publish the train timetable and publish the new bus network timetable NOW so that we can work out just what our new journey will look like and get an idea as to timing; some people may need to negotiate new work start times to accommodate assisting their children to get to school and the FACT that instead of a single journey (one bus, walk each way) we are forced to multi modal (walk,bus&train,walks) with the inescapable additional waiting times adding anything from 15 to 30 minutes more each way, each day; I know from previous experience that it will take longer each way.

School buses: All too often there are reports of children being inappropriately approached by strangers, molested or indeed going missing. Instead of working towards keeping all children safe on their way to and from school, the government is asking them to fend for themselves and thinks its okay for young children to use multi-modal transport and wait around for connections. In event of cancellations or other situations, expecting young kids to know what to do is unreasonable. The more steps you put in a process like this the greater the risks. Remember, a security camera does not prevent the crime, at best it helps catch the perpetrator after the event. If something happens to any child the blame lies squarely with the ACT Government. If any person becomes the victim of a crime while waiting for connections, it will be the governments fault.

I’d suggest that this change is caused by two factors:

1) The Government believing that school bus routes are a commercial venture, not a community service. The welfare of our kids comes 2nd place to trying to limit the financial losses of our bus system.

2) The recognition that the cost of the light rail will impact bus services.

It is terrible of course, but as the pro-tram people point out, the ACT voted the government in at the last election so the government believes they have a mandate. As a community we reap what we sow, and the Reaper Man hurts.

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