Fifty-nine schools, including 49 primary schools, will lose all their dedicated bus services under the ACT government's overhaul of public transport, The Canberra Times can confirm.
Amid safety concerns from parent and school groups, Transport Canberra and City Services has provided Fairfax Media with a detailed look into its new school transport plan that will see more kids catching public buses as mainstream services expand to about 30 per cent more schools.
The government says it's part of a vision for a faster, more efficient network with more frequent runs but fewer stops, meaning students won't be left stranded at school stops if they miss a bus or stay back late and buses won't be taken out of the public network to carry only small numbers of students.
As enrolments continue to climb in the ACT, the spokesman said it was critical Transport Canberra looked at school travel now to ensure it could meet demand into the future.
"It’s simply not efficient or a good use of our road network to operate more and more buses - that will just clog up the system," he said.
"We need to be smarter about how we use our resources to meet the public transport needs of our growing city."
But, while the new model will increase the number of school trips running in total when it launches in January, it will also more than halve the current number of dedicated school routes, from 109 to 47.
As a result, some suburbs will lose their services altogether, leaving students to walk further or change buses more often to get to class.
About 51 public routes will make diversions or 'S-trips' to schools during morning and afternoon peak times, while hub-and-spoke services will ferry students directly from interchanges to schools where demand is high.
School and parent associations in both the public and independent sector say S-trips are no substitute for the "peace of mind" of a dedicated school service that starts and ends at the school gate.
Right now, about 13 per cent of ACT school students take the bus to and from school, with most travelling by car. Of those catching a bus, about 42 per cent use a dedicated school service and most are high school or college students.
But transport spokeswoman for the Canberra Liberals Candice Burch said she had long heard calls from the community for more dedicated school buses, not less.
"Many parents have said they will have no choice but to drive their children to school because there is no safe alternative," Ms Burch said.
"These cuts are not fair."
Jennifer Hartcher only recently taught her nine-year-old daughter how to catch a dedicated bus home from her primary school so she could return to work full-time.
But, with the service axed under the new network, Ms Hartcher said she would now have to consider cutting back her hours again so she could pick Emily up every afternoon.
"She'd have to walk up a hill and out of sight of the school to get a bus in the afternoon, then change at an interchange, I can't let her do that by herself every day, she's too young."
A spokesman said Transport Canberra was taking on board a record influx of community feedback regarding the new network, including ideas about where it could make improvements for schools such as moving bus stops, adding pedestrian crossings or installing new school gates.
Two dedicated safety officers would be at every major interchange during peak school times in the morning and afternoon, and the government was still considering if officers might also be deployed at other transport hubs such as Erindale and Kippax shopping centres.
A spokesman for the ACT education directorate advised parents to plan ahead for the changes and to give feedback to Transport Canberra on the proposed network.
"Prior to the release of the new network, [we] provided advice to [Transport Canberra] that any planned change to the dedicated school bus service and the bus networks needed to ensure that students will still be able to easily and safely use public transport," the spokesman said.
Plans to ramp up evening and weekend services on the public network have been largely welcomed, including among youth groups.
But a spokesman for the ANU student association said some students had raised concerns that the current bus, which travels through the university's Acton campus, had also been cut in the changes.
"We've had students with mobility issues reach out and say 'hey this is going to really affect me' or people concerned about getting around campus at night now without that bus," he said.
"It's a big campus and it's tricky to get around at the best of times."
Total bus coverage across the ACT will slightly reduce under the new network but remain in excess of its target of 95 per cent, with about 1000 more trips in total running during a typical week day.
Schools which will only be serviced by public buses or light rail from 2019:
Burgmann Anglican School Forde Campus
Burgmann Anglican School Valley Campus
Canberra Grammar School - Northside early childhood campus
Caroline Chisholm School
Charles Conder Primary
Covenant Christian School
Good Shepherd Primary
Holy Trinity Primary
Kingsford Smith School
Mother Teresa School
Narrabundah Early Childhood School
Neville Bonner Primary School
Palmerston District Primary
Red Hill Primary
Sacred Heart Primary
St Bede's Primary
St Benedict's Primary
St Clare of Assisi Primary
St Francis of Assisi Primary
St John Vianney's Primary
St Joseph's Primary
St Matthew's Primary
St Michael's Primary
St Thomas Aquinas Primary
St Vincent's Primary
Sts Peter & Paul Primary
University of Canberra High School, Kaleen
Find more information about school buses or give feedback on the new bus network until August 12: yoursay.act.gov.au/rapid-bus-network
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