Schools likely to run bus services for pupils

Some Hamilton schools may be forced to start their own bus services to get hundreds of out-of-town pupils to and from school, after a cut in Government funding.

The Ministry of Education is looking to slash nearly $1 million of funding to the routes bringing children into the city from the Hauraki, Matamata-Piako, Waikato and Waipa districts.

The proposed cuts would affect about 560 pupils who catch the school buses to Sacred Heart Girls College, St John's College and Waikato Diocesan School for Girls.

Ten bus routes would be affected by the cuts, which would take effect at the end of 2015.

Unless an alternative solution is found, those pupils will be forced to take public buses to and from their schools. That means more of the buses managed by the regional council will be required to transport them - as well as an extra $1m.

The ministry's rationale for pulling out of funding and running the school bus services was that it was not deemed necessary to provide them in areas where those services ran parallel to, or duplicated, local authority-managed public transport.

The issue caused much discussion at the Waikato Regional Council's regional public transport plan development committee on Monday, where co-chairwoman Lois Livingston suggested that rather than letting the extra costs fall on the shoulders of regional ratepayers, the three affected schools might be able to combine resources and operate their own bus services.

"It's not a small impact [on ratepayers]," she said.

Regional council chairwoman Paula Southgate agreed. "The ministry needs to understand Hamilton's problem. It will fall on the ratepayers and the fare-payers."

Southgate said it would pay to "reach out" to other councils to see how they were dealing with such cut-backs. "This is a national problem."

A meeting in May discuss the looming problem and attended by principals, ministry officials, NZ Transport Agency staff, the mayors of affected districts and members of the committee. A working group was subsequently established, which came up with some options.

Public transport operations manager Ben Barlow told Monday's committee meeting that those options had been put to the ministry for their consideration. He was to meet with ministry staff today and the working group would meet again at the end of this month.

Barlow described the $1m figure as a "rough and dirty" estimate. "That cost could potentially be split between the regional council and the other local bodies," he said.

"The point we need to emphasise is that we are all working with the ministry to find a solution to this situation."

St John's principal Shane Tong said he was disappointed to hear of the council's discussions through the media, rather than from the council itself.

About 240 of his pupils would be affected. "We have had one meeting with the ministry and regional council in April, where we were told that we were in a consultation stage and have no contact since . . . [Public bus] services do not exist in all areas."

Waikato Times