More private school principals in Canberra have sounded the alarm over planned cuts to dedicated school bus services, saying enrolments could drop where bus stops are placed further away from campuses as concerns about student safety grow.
Under the ACT government's public transport overhaul, more than half of all dedicated school routes will be slashed, in return for more public buses travelling past schools more often. Fifty-nine schools, including 49 primary schools, will lose all their dedicated services in the new network, due to come online in January.
But a growing number of principals, including at St Edmund's, Brindabella and Radford, have hit out at a lack of information and consultation offered to affected schools.
Students as young as eight at St Edmund's College will now have to catch up to three buses and then cross a major road without traffic lights to get to class each morning, principal Joe Zavone said, as the college's dedicated services more than halve under the plan.
The school had since been inundated with messages from concerned parents, he said.
"We're likely to lose some enrolments over this," Mr Zavone said.
"Why would you send your kid to a school where they have to make three bus changes just to get there, especially coming from northside?"
Mr Zavone said he was particularly concerned about the impact on students with disabilities or autism.
"Some kids they just won't cope at interchanges."
Michelle, whose last name could not be published for legal reasons, said her two boys with autism relied on their school bus to get to St Edmund's safely each day.
"My 11-year-old has no road sense at all," she said. "I don't know what we'll do."
Principal at Brindabella Christian College Christine Lucas said the school was set to lose all 17 of its current services but had yet to see detail on what that would mean for students on the ground.
Transport Canberra confirmed the services would go but said the school would also gain two new "hub and spoke' school services which would ferry students directly to the college from interchanges, providing access to about 180 students on top of the public network.
While Transport Canberra said there was still room to improve the network for students, Ms Lucas said her impression after consultation was it seemed to be a "done deal".
"They're [restricting] parent choice...They won't give us the proper data we've asked for [on the changes]. Without that..they're forcing us into a no man's land."
Andrew Wrigley of the ACT's Association of Independent Schools said private schools had been hit especially hard by the changes and, while information had since been updated online, not enough had yet been revealed about what the overhaul would mean practically.
Under the government's new draft school bus policy, dedicated buses come in last on the service hierarchy, behind walking, cycling and public transport.
Mr Wrigley said that plan didn't work for independent schools which tended to have more kids coming from further away and younger students catching buses.
Transport Canberra said every school would still be served by a bus in the new network, with public trips past schools ramping up by 30 per cent, but stressed public transport needed to make better use of its resources if it was to serve the territory's growing population.
School stops would be removed in locations where kids could be stranded if they missed a bus, but others inside school grounds would remain, a spokesman said. Two safety officers would be out at each interchange during school times where real-time CCTV footage was already monitored, he said.
At Daramalan College, assistant principal Angela Dunn acknowledged the ACT government had to look at the big picture but said she expected the cuts would increase traffic congestion around the school, as it lost all but four of its dedicated services.
"We're losing all the ones coming from Woden and Tuggeranong, they seem assume our kids only come from Gungahlin, they come from all over," she said.
On Tuesday, a number of other private schools, including Canberra Girls Grammar, also told The Canberra Times they were concerned about the school bus changes.
Public consultation on the new bus network ends this week on August 12.
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