Families stung by new bus rules

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 08:00 16/02/2013

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Some of Dannevirke's rural families are having to fork out for their daily school bus ride as a result of a Ministry of Education transport directive enforced in the Tararua this month.

For the first time, transport provider GoBus has charged rural families living on the edge of Dannevirke to transport their children to school.

The directive was first introduced in 2009, but GoBus only adopted it this term.

Operations director Darryl Bellamy was tight-lipped on the topic, saying the company is just following directions. "We are just contracted to the ministry and we're fulfilling our contract to them."

A ministry spokeswoman said the funded school transport service "is not intended to be a door-to-door service" and the responsibility for ensuring students attend school remains with caregivers and parents.

The ministry's guidelines, which apply to all students across the country, state that a student aged 10 years old or over must live more than 4.8km from their nearest appropriate school to be eligible for assistance.

But Dannevirke parent Amanda Grant-Berkahn said it was the safety concerns and cost that concerned her. For the eight years she has lived in Dannevirke's southern rural outskirts, on the corner of Laws Rd and State Highway 2, her family had not been charged for school transport - until now.

She has chosen to transport her two daughters to school - about 2km away for Lucy at Dannevirke South School and 4km for Lia at Dannevirke High School - because the school bus fee would be $320 for a 10-week term.

"It's a bit much if you ask me, especially if the bus is going that way anyway. We used to be the last on and first off and now we're just waving as the bus goes past."

Her main concern was for their safety walking along an unpaved 100kmh speed zone to school, she said.

Dannevirke South School principal Stephen Snell said the cost of using the school bus, for those not eligible, would be another unwanted expense, he sympathised with the families affected.

"Any additional costs are always hard," he said.

The ministry spokeswoman acknowledged many schools in New Zealand are located near busy roads and parents might think it unsafe for their children to make their own way to a bus terminal or all the way to school, but said it is their responsibility to transport the child.

Asked if families outside the eligibility zone could receive assistance if they were struggling, the spokeswoman said "exceptions would lead to costly, unfair and inequitable school transport services for students".

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- Manawatu Standard

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