Mother incensed at school bus fare change

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 01/02/2013
Sophie Price
MARTIN de RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
NOT HAPPY: Sophie Price, left, Daniel Vincent and Caleb Box are Nayland College students who live at Hira whose families face a big increase in the bus fare to get to school.

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A change to Nelson's school bus service means some students will have to pay an extra $200 to attend their school of choice.

For years, a number of students have received free rides to school, said Suburban Bus Line Group's managing director Tony Cumming.

The change affects students who get a free ride as far as their nearest school and have paid for the second part of their trip to the school of their choice. The change means they will now have to pay for the whole trip or buy a special annual pass.

Following an internal review of SBL's contract with the Ministry of Education last year, "ineligible" students will no longer get their free ride.

Mr Cumming would not say how many students would be affected, but said it was a "pretty significant" number.

SBL Group operates 32 Ministry of Education-contracted school bus routes in Nelson.

He said some students had been riding cost free to their nearest school, despite being "ineligible" for the service because they did not attend that school. Those students were sometimes taking seats from "eligible" bus users.

Mr Cumming said although some drivers had allowed ineligible riders to travel on SBL school buses in previous years, that would have to stop.

"The company used its discretion where there was space available in the past," he said. "It became apparent out of that review that we may have not been complying with policy.

"SBL, as operator of the contract, is required to fulfil the requirements of that contract."

Ministry group manager of resourcing John Clark said its contract with SBL had not changed since 2009. "Any transport provided to ineligible students, or students not attending their closest school, must be paid for by students or their families," he said. "The transport of ineligible students is a business decision made by the bus company."

Mr Cumming said parents could apply for a special pass if there was no alternative service that would take a student to their choice of school.

An annual pass for students that were ineligible, who had been granted an application, would be available for about $194.

One of those affected is Bobby Besley's son, Paul, who rides to Nayland College from Hira on two SBL contracted school buses each morning. He traditionally rode free into town before transferring buses at Nelson College, and paying his way from there.

Ms Besley said she gladly paid $25 a week for the second leg of her son's journey, because it was a choice to attend co-educational Nayland, which was further away than Nelson College.

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However, she is "incensed" after being told she must pay another $194 a year, on top of $750 she already spends annually, for her son to travel between Hira and Nelson, previously a free part of his daily trip to and from school.

"It's outrageous, and it's a really bad thing to do to Nayland," Ms Besley said. "It will affect their roll - all these kids who live in Brightwater or Hira will go to Waimea or Nelson College."

She said it would have been free to send her son to the college closest to Hira, Nelson College, but that school would not suit her son who, "doesn't fit into a gender box".

"It's totally against all my beliefs that I'd send my kids to a single-sex school. It's so wrong, having that choice taken away, it's like living in a dictatorship."

Ms Besley said Nayland College was a "more accepting school" and the only real option to suit her son's alternative lifestyle.

"People choose to go to Nayland because of its special character," she said. "What's the difference between that and a religious school?"

Ms Besley has written directly to School Services, the company that co-ordinates school transport for the ministry, and local Labour MP Maryan Street.

"She's gonna be onto the case. I'm not going to give up on this," Ms Besley said.

WHAT THE SCHOOLS SAY:

Nayland College: Deputy principal Richard Wilkins said 11 students approached him with concerns about the extra cost. Nayland hosted a number of students who commute between Stoke and the outskirts of Nelson, he said.

Waimea College: Principal Larry Ching said he doesn't expect many Waimea students to be affected. "It might be too early to tell, but we don't have a large number of students travelling in from far away, and those that do, the majority are being brought in by their parents either because they made that choice, or they work out here."

Nelson College for Girls: Principal Cathy Ewing said she was unaware of the change in SBL policy, but expected some of her students would be affected.

Garin College: Principal John Boyce said the changes wouldn't affect his far-flung students so much, because those in Nelson north already caught and paid for a Garin-contracted bus. "Otherwise we couldn't get our Catholic students to their Catholic school," he said.

Nelson Intermediate School: Principal Hugh Gully said younger students in Nelson had no excuse not to attend their local school, with its corresponding free bus service. However, he said "secondary schools are different as people have the right to access the different types of schools that might not necessarily be their closest one such as coed or single sex".

- The Nelson Mail

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