Bus service sure it can integrate pupils safely

Ewen McCammon
Ewen McCammon
Wakatipu bus provider Connectabus is confident it can provide a safe bus service for the area's school pupils.

Managing director Ewen McCammon said it had been in talks with the Ministry of Education for about two months over the ministry's review of school bus services in the area.

Its proposal to the ministry would result in school pupils being integrated into its existing routes and timetable, he said.

Wakatipu schools have voiced their concerns after the ministry informed school representatives of the review last week.

Under the review, school pupils with access to a suitable public transport service, and who lived within a predetermined geographical boundary, would no longer be eligible for School Transport Assistance, requiring families to pay for a commercial bus service.

St Joseph's School board chairwoman Gigi Hollyer told the Otago Daily Times she was concerned about the proposal's financial implications for pupils' families.

She was also concerned about safety, and issues around bullying and having children on buses with unknown adults.

Mr McCammon confirmed its buses would not display a school bus and 20kmh sign, as stipulated by the NZ Transport Agency for public bus services exclusively carrying pupils.

However, its drivers were vetted by the police and its buses had more safety systems than those used by the existing school service, including video surveillance.

He did not anticipate its drivers requiring additional training to deal with issues such as bullying, which ''would not be allowed on our buses''.

The company would use the same stops it used now, but would alter its timetable if necessary.

The ministry review was a good opportunity for the company, ''but that doesn't mean it will work straight off'', he said.

''We have to put the right vehicles there for the clients, and they have a choice whether they use it or not - but we want them to use it.''

Ministry of Education head of infrastructure services Kim Shannon said it was required to give schools at least a term's notice of any changes to transport arrangements, and no final decisions had been made.

Changes would not be implemented before the new school year.

Queenstown Mayor Vanessa van Uden said that beyond the ''significant impact'' for families in terms of costs and time, a move to cut bus services could add to the town's congestion.

However, Queenstown had ''probably been pretty privileged'' with its school bus service until now.

Although council staff were talking to the ministry, the local authority had ''limited influence'' because the ministry was responsible for bus services, which were provided by a private company.

When asked if there was a case for approaching the Otago Regional Council to fund Queenstown's public transport, Ms van Uden said ''possibly''.