Mum questions fairness of Queenstown's school bus service

by Lauren Pattemore - Jul 03, 2023

There are 11 free bus routes offered to Whakatipu High School pupils, as part of the Ministry of Education's school bus services, but not everyone is benefitting with those left to pay their own way feeling like they’re missing out.

One mother says families living in Sunshine Bay and Fernhill have no school bus, and have to jump aboard a public service or drive their children to school themselves, and that doesn't seem fair to her when families living in other suburbs closer to the school get a free ride.

School transport group manager James Meffan says the ministry’s criteria for a free school bus route is that there isn’t any existing public transport servicing the area.

An official school bus route only kicks in where distance and/or accessibility might be a barrier for young people otherwise attending their closest state school, he says.

“The primary responsibility for transporting children to and from school rests with their caregivers."

The Ministry of Education sends buses each day to get high schoolers to and from Glenorchy, Kingston, Lakeside Estate, Quail Rise, Tucker Beach, Arthurs Point, Lake Hayes Estate, Shotover Country, Arrowtown, Speargrass Flat, Gibbston and Lower Shotover.

But those living in Sunshine Bay and Fernhill don’t qualify for any ministry service, because there’s already the Number 1 bus route that travels from these suburbs to the school.

It's the same for those living in Queenstown Hill, Kelvin Heights, Hanley's Farm and Jack's Point.

“There is no ministry-funded school bus as there is suitable public transport available," Mr Meffan says.

However, Sunshine Bay and Fernhill Association chairperson Simone Bray is questioning the equity of the system, believing it’s not fair that families in her neighbourhood have to pay for transport when so many other Queenstowners don't.

She says there is a big cost difference between having children use the free ministry service and a public bus.

Mrs Bray pays $60 a month sending her two children to and from school on public transport provided by the Otago Regional Council, saying the 75 cents per one-way trip “all adds up”.

Without their own free ministry bus, Mrs Bray wonders why school kids can’t get a free fare if they’re traveling to and from school on other forms of public transport.

She contacted the ministry last year when bus services were cut and running unreliably, saying the Number 1 route wasn’t showing up and she was frequently having to drop her children in.

“You couldn’t trust it to show up - is that really a regular and reliable service?"

Mrs Bray says during this time her son once called her after waiting more than an hour at the bus stop, with no busses having turned up.

However, her request for a school bus was denied by the ministry, and she says one of the reasons supplied was a shortage of bus drivers.

Her family catches the 7.55am Sunshine Bay service to get to school, and things have improved recently as cancellations have decreased.

The Otago Regional Council has confirmed this service has been cancelled only once in the past two months.

The ministry's Mr Meffan says, “For students attending Wakatipu High School who live in Fernhill and Sunshine Bay, there is suitable public transport between their homes and their school."

Other criteria determining whether an address may be eligible for a school bus includes whether children living there are attending their closest state school, as well as whether they are living at least 4.8 kilometres away from that school.

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