Crowding feared if axe falls on school bus runs
School students could be forced to use public buses, Aaron Leaman reports.
Hamilton's roading network could be thrown into turmoil next year if the Education Ministry goes ahead with a proposal to scuttle almost a dozen Waikato bus runs.
The ministry wants to end 10 school bus services from the start of next year, and the regional council has called for urgent talks.
Waikato Regional Council runs the region's buses.
Ministry group manager John Clark said a review of Waikato school bus runs last year revealed the ministry was funding bus runs alongside buses provided by the regional council.
He said the aim of school transport was to provide assistance to students who did not have ready access to transport to and from their nearest school.
"School transport assistance is provided as a last resort where there is no other suitable means of access to the nearest school.
"The ministry does not provide services that run parallel with, or duplicate, local authority transport provision."
The total budgeted cost of the 10 school runs is about $480,000 a year.
Mr Clark said staff met the regional council last year and were seeking a further meeting to resolve the issue.
But regional councillor Paula Southgate said the council was frustrated by the lack of "constructive engagement" with ministry staff and called on Hamilton's two National MPs to broker talks on the looming problem.
Ms Southgate said the ministry's proposal would overload Hamilton's public bus services and potentially leave commuters stranded.
"In every instance where school buses are removed, school children jump on to public services."
Ms Southgate said she had written to Education Minister Hekia Parata to arrange a meeting but the minister had declined to speak with the council.
Regional council policy and transport group manager Vaughan Payne said public bus services were running at capacity at peak times and would not be able to take the proposed influx of students.
"The ministry appears to be quite happy for their schoolchildren to be left on the side of the road," he said.
Another meeting of council staff, the ministry and the NZ Transport Agency is scheduled later this month but Mr Payne said he had not seen any signals that the ministry would change its stance.
The MP for Hamilton West, National's Tim Macindoe, said he would raise the regional council's concerns with the Education Minister as well as NZTA.
"The important thing is to ensure the safety of all the kids on the buses and also the convenience of bus users," he said.
SCHOOL BUS RUNS TO GO
The ministry wants to axe these runs: 2105 Te Awamutu; 2337 Huntly; 2338 Ngaruawahia; 2364 Cambridge; 2365 Cambridge; 2463 Te Aroha; 2509 Morrinsville; 2464 Melville (feeder); 2504 Te Awamutu; 2196 Te Awamutu.