Things about to get a little easier on the buses

Jarrod Frazer
Jarrod Frazer
Extra passenger capacity is being added to Wanaka's school transport service after ''cramped'' buses caused by growing school rolls prompted an approach to the Ministry of Education.

Wanaka Primary School parent Jarrod Frazer raised safety concerns last week with Wanaka school principals and Alexandra-based Central Motorways - contracted by the ministry to provide school bus services in the Upper Clutha - about loading limits on school buses.

Mr Frazer's 10-year-old daughter was uncomfortable with pupils having to stand on her ''very cramped'' daily bus ride.

The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) determines the legal loading limit for every bus, including both seated and standing passengers and the limits for a particular vehicle can be found on its certificate of loading.

''The Albert Town bus in particular is a 48-seater bus and the NZTA allows them to seat 72 kids and have a further 16 children standing,'' Mr Frazer said on Friday.

''Not the safest in my mind, especially if the bus has to stop quickly.''

On Monday, Central Motorways general manager Michael Harrison alerted the ministry - on behalf of local schools - to the mounting pressure on bus capacity, particularly in Albert Town and Hawea.

Although the buses were already ''heavily loaded'', all vehicles and drivers were operating safely within NZTA limits, he told the Otago Daily Times at the time.

The ministry subsequently agreed Central Motorways could extend its existing service by operating a ''run-back'' between Wanaka and Albert Town, where the bus will return along the remainder of the route picking up those passengers not collected the first time.

''This sort of transport arrangement is relatively common, especially in rural areas,'' ministry infrastructure services head Kim Shannon said.

The bus schedule changes would take effect next Tuesday and a back-up vehicle would be available if pupil numbers warranted it.

Mr Frazer said it was ''excellent'' to get such a quick, positive response from the ministry.

Wanaka Primary School principal Wendy Bamford said the extra seating capacity would cater for significant growth in the school's roll, which was now the highest it had been at 530 pupils. The roll was expected to reach 620 by the end of the year.

She had always had ''great faith'' in Central Motorways as an operator.

''They are so reliable and you know that they're going to play by the rules.''

Central Motorways has 12 school buses servicing Wanaka at present. Two additional bus runs and progressively larger vehicles have been added to cope with population growth during the past five years.

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz