Fourteen-year-old Anna Connolly doesn't know how she will get to school next year.
The Merici College student, who has Down syndrome, spent 18 months learning how to catch her dedicated school bus each day and was ready to make the journey solo when her sister graduated at the end of the year.
But last week the ACT government revealed Anna's bus will be one of many services dumped under its public transport overhaul.
Following community backlash over student safety and consultation with schools, Transport Canberra partially pulled back from earlier plans to slash daily school bus trips from 246 to 145 when the new network comes online in January.
Under the revised plan, about half of schools will still lose all their dedicated buses, 51 compared to the original proposal of 59 and most schools will lose at least one bus, but an extra 78 school trips will be added to the network's design as rapid buses also expand.
Non-government schools, hit especially hard by the cuts, have slammed the revision as disappointing, saying that while some schools have been granted a reprieve, others are still missing out, putting students at risk.
Brindabella Christian College principal Christine Lucas said one of her secondary students had been assaulted while catching a public bus in Lyneham over the school holidays. Police confirmed they were now investigating the incident but the student was not seriously injured.
Slashing dedicated bus services amid a string of recent assaults on school children was particularly concerning, Ms Lucas said, as the new network would have more students walking further to bus stops and passing through busy public interchanges.
"I don't understand why the risk for students at some schools has now been reduced while others haven't," she said.
Of 222 daily school services now set to run in 2019, many will also operate differently than those today, with more than half passing through an interchange:
- 48 per cent of all school trips (106) will carry students from their home suburb to a school (compared to 76 per cent in the current network)
- 50 (22 per cent) will be "hub and spoke" services carrying students directly from an interchange to school (compared with 10 per cent in todays network)
- 66 (30 per cent) will perform both functions running through one or more suburbs but also stopping at an interchange on the way to schools (compared with 15 per cent in todays network)
A spokesman for Transport Canberra said all schools losing a bus would still be served by a public connection, as more general buses ran past schools. Extra customer service officers will also be out at interchanges during school times but thousands of students already pass through the hubs each day.
Anna's mother Helen Connolly, who works in disability services, said she couldn't imagine how she would teach her daughter to navigate the risks along her new route, which will involve walking to the light rail, then walking from an interchange in the city out to her school in Braddon.
"It's just horrifying," Ms Connolly said.
"Were putting a huge number of people who need support to access services at risk. I'll have to cut down my hours at work to drive her, I don't know what we'll do."
Transport Canberra said it had taken on board community concerns about safety but the new network would make better use of its fleet and keep transport sustainable for a growing city, as a number of school services were currently under-utilised.
Principals have questioned the MyWay data used to draw such conclusions, saying head-counts conducted by Transport Canberra at a number of non-government schools after the original network was unveiled revealed sharp discrepancies in their estimated patronage and the actual number of students boarding buses.
Transport Canberra used MyWay estimates and enrolment information from public schools when building the new network from scratch, but said non-government schools "have not traditionally shared [enrolment] information with the ACT government".
Private school principals say they weren't asked, learning of the cuts only after they were announced in June. In some cases, such as at Marist College, discrepancies in MyWay estimates revealed during head-counts led the government to back down on bus cuts at the school altogether.
But at Brindabella, Merici and Radford College as well as others, packed buses had still been cut in the final design.
From next year, Transport Canberra is planning to request enrolment data from all ACT schools annually, in a regular review of school bus services, the spokesman said, and recruitment for a special school liaison officer was also underway.
Ms Lucas said the government seemed genuinely willing to engage with schools going forward.
"That's terrific but they've already made this fundamental shift to school transport," she said.
"I've got big pockets of students affected by this, [especially] south of the lake."
Radford principal Fiona Godfrey said she had received no such opportunity for consultation, despite submitting her school's bus requirements in July 2017and then lodging another submission in August this year, citing concerns about student safety and increased traffic congestion.
After learning Transport Canberra had been in contact with other schools, Ms Godfrey said the college had asked for the same opportunity. But the meeting had been pushed back until the day after the revised network was announced, when the school was told no new changes could be made.
At Merici, principal Loretta Wholley acknowledged her school would be well served by public transport so near the light rail corridor, but said students travelling from the south were still missing out and Transport Canberra had not given any assurances about safeguards for younger students or those with complex needs.
Ms Connolly said the suggestion students with disabilities could buy a support worker to take them on the new network was a step backwards - and another drain on limited disability support funds.
"It's unjust," she said.
Andrew Wrigley of the Association of Independent Schools of the ACT said the revised network was certainly an improvement on the original plan, but it was unclear why some schools had been given back buses and others hadn't.
The Catholic Education Archdiocese of Canberra is still scrutinising the final network but has previously raised concerns about the safety of students pushed onto public buses and travelling through interchanges.
Transport Canberra did not answer questions about supports for students with complex needs before deadline. The existing special needs transport program, which operates as an independent service, will not be affected by the network changes.
With Han Nguyen