Pressure mounts over school bus cuts

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Changes to Canberra’s bus network continue to cause community concern over the cancellation of dedicated school services. The ACT Government conducted extensive community consultation last year on the new network, which resulted in some services being restored.

However, a petition by the Canberra Liberals that calls on the ACT Government to restore all of the dedicated school bus services, which was tabled in November 2018 with 500 signatures, has seen an upswing in activity after the release of the new network timetables in March.

ACT Shadow Transport Minister Candice Burch says the petition originally contributed to the ACT Government’s “partial backflip” which saw 78 dedicated school services reinstated, but there has been increased correspondence from parents and teachers since the release of the timetables.

“Most of the concern from the community is centred around children’s safety, however many parents are also concerned about increased travel times and the impact this will have on children’s extracurricular activities and family life,” she says.

“Community feedback about the new timetable has been overwhelmingly negative; 41 of the 51 schools without a dedicated bus service are primary schools. These changes will mean that the only public transport option for many will involve walking further to and from bus stops, and changing at interchanges. This will also result in longer travel times. I have heard from many parents, teachers, schools and carers who think the potential safety risks are too high. Many parents have told us that they will start driving their children to school instead.”

Canberra Weekly has heard concerns about primary school children being required to walk up to 2km to access a bus stop for a dedicated school service, with the alternative being to catch a regular bus route with “unknown adults”, as well as being required to wait for connecting services at Canberra’s bus interchanges.

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris says the consultation with community was genuine, with over 13,000 individual pieces of feedback received. She says while some changes have been made to dedicated school services, the focus was on “more regular routes being able to service Canberra’s schools”.

“As a result of the consultation, 37 changes were made across the 58 routes in the regular bus network and an additional 78 school services were included in the final network,” she says.

Minister Fitzharris says increased CCTV on buses and interchanges, school crossing supervisors at 25 school crossings, improvements to infrastructure and more customer service assistants at interchanges would be put in place to assist schools and student using public transport.

“We also have a Schools Liaison Manager in Transport Canberra who can further assist school communities as they become familiar with the new network,” she says.

Ms Burch says the Canberra Liberals are continuing to put pressure on the ACT Government to reverse the decision to cut school bus services, and continue to consult with parents and schools territory-wide.

“The Canberra Liberals have been fighting to stop these cuts since they were first announced, and will continue to fight against these changes,” she says.

The new public transport network will begin on Monday 29 April. Timetables can be viewed via transport.act.gov.au

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