Most dedicated school buses will be dumped under the ACT government’s new transport overhaul, as general services expand to about 30 per cent more schools.
But the territory's peak parent association has raised concerns about students travelling on the public network unsupervised, particularly in a system now requiring more stopovers at interchanges.
Right now there are more than 100 school bus services running across the ACT for both public and private schools. Under the new scheme, that number will fall to 47.
ACT Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the proposed network, which will go live in January, will put about 25 per cent more Canberrans in walking distance of a rapid bus or light rail stop, and speed up routes.
Schools without a bus nearby will keep their service and some public routes will make minor diversions to drop off students.
Acting executive officer of the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens' Associations Janelle Kennard said parents had a "strong preference" for specialised school services, and "did not want kids, particularly young kids, [going] through interchanges".
“We’ve been telling [Transport Canberra] that for years and years,” Ms Kennard said.
"Bus drivers need to have a police check, but other passengers don't. I myself was groped on a bus as a child and this is not an unusual experience."
While students travelling outside a priority enrolment area will likely have to make connections during their journey, Transport Canberra and City Services will bump up staff at interchanges to assist students around school times.
The number of staff required would be determined through consultation with parents and schools, kicking off this week, but CCTV was already installed at all major stations, a spokeswoman for the minister said.
With more schools served by more frequent services, the uptake of public transport among student was also expected to rise, she said.
"The overwhelming majority of school students don’t currently use a dedicated school bus," the spokeswoman said.
About 80 per cent of primary school students and half of high school and college students travel by car. Nearly 60 per cent of those catching a bus to school each day already use the public network, according to MyWay data."
While school routes made up less than seven per cent of all bus trips in Canberra, they took up 25 per cent of the fleet, the spokeswoman said, and a number of existing services were underutilised by schools.
"For example, one school is serviced by 10 dedicated school services [but] on average each dedicated bus is dropping one student."
Moving more students onto the public network would allow for better use of resources but was not necessarily a cost-saving measure, she said.
"This is about designing our network in a smarter way to deliver more services overall to both students and other commuters."
The scheme will also remove school-only bus stops.
"If a student currently misses a bus at these stops they may be left stranded without another bus coming," the spokeswoman said.
"Under the new network, if a student misses a bus, another will be coming."
Opposition spokeswoman for transport Candice Burch said she had already heard concerns from families and schools about the lack of dedicated school buses in Canberra.
A further reduction posed a "significant safety concern" and would likely result in fewer children catching the bus to school, she said.
The Canberra Liberals welcomed the addition of extra rapid bus and late night services, but accused the government of "giving with one hand and taking with the other".
Ms Burch said the new system would mean "more waiting in the cold" for connecting buses and put pressure on interchanges, turning the city station into an "enormous bottleneck".
While the parents' association had yet to be briefed about the new network on Tuesday, Ms Kennard said she expected to be filled in by the government in the coming days, after first being told of the change on Friday. Many questions remained about student safety under the proposal, she said.
"We have also had ongoing concerns about safe access to the public transport network for students with a disability," Ms Kennard said.
"We wrote to Transport Canberra in March about this but they have not replied."
Special needs transport will not be affected by the network changes and student travel to school will continue to be subsidised by the government.
More than 600 people have already given feedback on the plan since it went live this week at yoursay.act.gov.au/rapid-bus-network.
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