By: Simon Collins
East Auckland’s two members of Parliament have asked Auckland Transport to postpone planned cuts in school bus services by six months to allow time for consultation.
Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown have offered to host a public meeting on the cuts, which affect 17 schools in East Auckland and services from the area to 10 schools in central Auckland from the start of next year.
Somerville Intermediate School principal David Ellery will join parents from several affected schools in a public appeal at a meeting of the Howick Local Board at 6pm tonight.
Board chairman David Collings said the board would look at holding its own public meeting because Auckland Transport officials were unable to answer questions about school buses at the first of 11 official consultations on wider public transport changes, which was held at the Howick village market on Saturday.
“I heard concerns from people who attended that they were unable to talk about the school buses. That is of huge concern,” he said.
More than 1350 people have now signed a petition asking Auckland Transport to reinstate the current dedicated school buses, instead of telling students to catch public buses.
Howick resident Rennel Bulay, who has three children at Sacred Heart College in Glendowie, said the current school bus took them directly to the school in 20 minutes but next year they would have to catch a public bus to Panmure Station and another bus from there to Glendowie, taking about 45 minutes in all.
He said he or his wife would have to drive to Sacred Heart to pick up the children after school to get them home in time for sports and other activities.
“There are about 150 students taking the school bus from Howick-Botany-Pakuranga area to Sacred Heart,” he wrote on the petition website change.org.
“Taking out this service and encouraging the students to take the public bus will encourage parents to drive them to school, increasing more vehicles on the road. Not a wise move, I reckon.”
Ellery said he had heard that the 400 children who catch buses to and from Somerville Intermediate would have to catch buses that would go to Howick College first after school.
“Howick College finishes later than us, so does that mean we are going to have 400 kids waiting for 45 minutes while the buses go there and then come to us?” he asked.
“To be frank with you, I can’t recall any consultation, even though we have been working with Auckland Transport for some time on walking school buses,” he added.
“We heard about it when it hit the public forum last week. We have received the pamphlets that were dropped in everybody’s letterboxes.”
Ross said that even he, as a local MP, could not find out details about the proposed changes.
“I asked for a set of maps showing the old routes, the new routes and how many kids are involved. They said, ‘We don’t have comprehensive information,'” he said.
“I believe Auckland Transport does have the ability to delay changes in the school buses by continuing with the current services for six months or a year so they can have a conversation with the parents.”
Similar school bus changes by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council were put on hold for six months in June after parents petitioned against them.
Aquinas College Parent Teacher Association chairwoman Lee-Ann Taylor said the Bay of Plenty council wanted to reduce 45 school bus services to nine, but was now talking to individual schools about saving some of the routes that would have gone.
Auckland Transport spokesman James Ireland said his agency had also agreed to change its proposals for the three schools that have complained so far.
“We are adding two school routes for Howick Intermediate and Our Lady Star of the Sea and we are modifying a school bus route so that it goes to Botany Downs Primary School,” he said.
But he said: “We can’t tailor each route to each individual’s journey, we need to provide a network that serves the area in the best way possible. The new network is designed to provide shorter, more frequent services with better links to trains and ferries.
“Trains run every 10 minutes during peak hours from Panmure Station, which means that people can turn up and go and don’t have to worry about checking the timetable.”
He said: “We acknowledge we could have done better in consulting with school communities, however we have been in dialogue with schools involved. We asked them to advise parents and families about the changes.”
But he said the decision to change the school bus routes at the start of 2018 was in line with wider public transport changes taking effect on December 10.
“We are unclear what benefit there would be in delaying the changes,” he said.
“To put this in perspective some of the routes that have been changed were carrying as few as six children per trip, and it’s not fair on ratepayers and taxpayers to subsidise services like that.
“Comprehensive information including maps is on the AT website. We encourage people to come to one of our information events or to contact us directly on 09 366 6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Ireland said there was no Ministry of Education subsidy for school buses in areas where “suitable public transport” was available, and all Auckland school buses were funded by Auckland Transport itself, plus fares.
Ministry of Education infrastructure services head Kim Shannon said the ministry subsidised school buses in areas where there was no suitable public transport, mainly in rural areas.
She said the cost of those subsidies would drop from $195 million to $190m a year from next July due to savings “generated primarily by optimising bus routes using new technology the ministry designed to ensure bus routes were properly matched to the student population”.
Source: NZ Herald