Review, end of contract to alter bus services

More pupils from the Wakatipu area may need to take public bus services, instead of school buses, after a review.

However, any transition would happen in a staged manner and after the Ministry of Education and Otago Regional Council had worked out an agreement for the region.

Discussions were in the early stages.

A report for the council said the ministry had formed the view a significant number of pupils receiving travel assistance did not meet eligibility criteria and likely needed to be ‘‘transitioned’’ from the ministry’s services.

Queenstown-Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he had concerns about safety implications.

Traffic had to slow to 20kmh to pass school buses, but this did not apply to public services.

The district had fought to get public services up to a good standard and ‘‘cramming them with school children’’ could be detrimental, he said.

The regional council report commented removal of free Ministry of Education bus services would likely be opposed by a significant part of the Queenstown community, and schools.

Ministry of Education school transport group manager James Meffan said the ministry reviewed its school transport routes periodically to ensure they were operating within policy.

It worked with schools and regional councils to ensure any changes were communicated clearly and implemented with sufficient time to keep disruption to a minimum.

The ministry was seeking to establish memorandums of understanding with all public transport authorities, he said.

‘‘A key element of this work is agreement on transition timeframes for any potential service changes, as well as regular communications with any affected schools.’’

Pupils from Outram School wish their bus drivers well for the future. The drivers, from Otago...
Pupils from Outram School wish their bus drivers well for the future. The drivers, from Otago Road Services, are (from left) Graeme McIver, George Barclay and Terry Bradshaw. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

Otago Road Services to close 

Some tweaks will also be needed for Dunedin soon, mostly affecting buses departing from Green Island.

Otago Road Services will close at the end of this year, ending a 74-year history of operating public transport services in Dunedin.

‘‘The conclusion of our Ministry of Education school bus contracts at the end of the year, along with the commercial unsustainability of our commercial school bus services in Dunedin city have led to this decision,’’ manager Brent Sutherland said.

The company has been owned by the Sutherland family since 1976, by Reg and Bev Sutherland. Sons Brent and Wayne took over operations in the late 1990s.

Business uncertainty because of Covid-19 and compliance costs had contributed to the decision to wind down the business, he said.

Otago Road Services would stop operating more than 20 school bus services in the coastal Otago area.

Some staff would move to Go Bus, which has an expanded contract in Otago, and others would retire.

‘‘Many of our drivers have driven buses for several decades and their retirement will be a huge loss to an industry already suffering considerably from staff shortages,’’ Mr Sutherland said.

Go Bus business development director Russell Turnbull said all was looking good for Otago and Southland school bus services for next year.

‘‘In the large part, most school bus routes and drivers continue as they were in 2021, with Go Bus retaining the services it previously won,’’ Mr Turnbull said.

‘‘In new areas, such as Waitaki Valley, South Dunedin, Clutha Valley and Gore, we have been able to retain most of the current drivers, so they can continue to provide the same school routes next year, albeit in a new uniform and different bus.

‘‘New Go Bus depots have also been set up in Balclutha and Gore.’’


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