Parents demand revised bus law
A major North Shore bus operator vigorously denies parents' claims that lax safety standards are putting school kids at risk.
Lisa Clementson and Liz Brown from Devonport say there's a nationwide issue with bus overcrowding, safety equipment and driver behaviour.
Their children come home from school, often with hair-raising stories about their bus trips, Brown says.
They say kids, some as young as 7, are often squashed into the rear footwells on crammed buses travelling school routes.
Children on packed buses are ejected by rear doors opening or bags get snagged in the doors, they say.
"My 10-year-old, Freddie, had his own rucksack stuck outside of the bus, the whole time between bus stops," Brown says. "We've had a wad of emails with angry stories from parents."
Other concerns shared by school parents are issues with driver behaviour and a lack of seatbelts, she says.
But the general manager of bus operator Ritchies, which is contracted along with other companies by Auckland Transport (AT) for school runs, says the parents have overblown the issue.
Andrew Ritchie says his family-owned bus company puts safety first and has only received a handful of complaints in the last 12 months.
"We monitor the loadings on our vehicles every day and there's no overloading," he says.
An AT spokesperson says it has received 10 complaints in the past six months relating to school bus services on the North Shore.
Buses like the ones used on school runs can legally carry a maximum of 56 adults, but a weight formula based on age is used for schoolchildren, which allows buses to carry more people.
Ritchie, who sometimes drives school buses, believes parents' expectations over the "emotive issue" confuse comfort with safety.
"This is nothing new. This stuff comes up from time to time and what you find is mum and dad don't want their kids standing," he says.
Ritchies commuter bus fleet has similar safety systems as UK buses, Ritchie says.
"Buses are the safest form of transport in the world."
Parents of public school kids want the same level of safety many private school pupils enjoy as a "right" for everyone - Brown and Clementson are demanding a law change.
A spokesperson for Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse says the Government has no plans to introduce seatbelt legislation.
Kristin School executive principal Peter Clague says the school aims for every child to be in a seatbelt but there often aren't enough buses fitted with them to go around.
Ritchies has "no problem" laying on extra buses to ease overcrowded routes and fitting seatbelts, but "someone has to pay for them", Ritchie says.
A number of North Shore bus routes will be monitored, an AT spokesman says. This follows a meeting organised by Devonport-Takapuna Local Board involving affected parties.
North Shore Times