OPINION: Bring Our Free School Buses Back!

Dear BOP Regional Council

Dear BOP Regional Council,

Just to let you know, we want our free school bus service back! When do we want it? Now!

Have to tell you, I’m a bit surprised and disappointed when you keep trotting out the old, stale and sadly too often used politicians answer, “(sigh), Yes fine, but who’s going to pay for it?” muttered response, when pesky constituents like me start asking for things – like bringing back free school bus networks to their recent former glory.

You want to talk about payment, so let’s talk about payment then and who pays the price for what.

Our city is already paying the price for losing the free school bus service 1000x over every day, through congested roads and the impact of this on our local economy in a myriad of ways from increased goods delivery times, to loss of productivity due to increased travel time, not to mention impacts on health and the environment.

I’m sure there are some pointy head economists somewhere nearby who could quantify and monetise those costs for you.

As Cr Lyall Thurston so rightly pointed out when the “Rolls Royce” (free) school bus network stopped, the roads became immediately flooded with cars. It’s a bit of a no-brainer isn’t it? – like smoking and cancer – even to a simple man like myself there seems to be a fairly high correlation between losing that bus service and increased car traffic.

One would think then, that the solution would also be fairly obvious. Granted, it’s probably not the magic pill solution to all transportation woes, but it would be a big kick in the pants towards the ‘right direction’.

So here’s the thing. Nearly 3-years of Regional Transport Committee meetings trying to solve a congestion problem have largely failed due to the stubborn refusal to address one of its main causes, that being the cessation of the free school bus network.

Due to increased congestion, the public bus network has also become degraded. In turn, due to this, we are on the slippery slope where bus patronage is dropping and more people are using their cars. And so the spiral descends. So, how did you tackle this issue?

Well it seems your response was to spend vast sums of money on committee meetings and consultants ultimately concluding that the solution was to modify the bus routes to attract
more patronage. Yeah nah, probably not your best idea mate; we all know how that one worked out.

We should simply return the original free school bus network; full stop. Personally, I don’t care if it is free and I pay for it in my rates – what’s that likely to be, really? An extra $20 a year per household? The flow-on positive economic, health and environmental impacts for our city would be worth it – wouldn’t you say? And hey, even if we don’t have kids, we would all benefit from less cars on the road, right? If it helps, we don’t look at it as paying for school buses, we see it as removing obstacles from within our stifled transport network.

Return the school bus network to its former glory and we can all breathe a sigh of relief as the roads clear again, like when it’s school holidays…then we can focus on improving the public bus networks actual concerns going forward.

And you Cr Crosby (Chair or the Regional Transport Committee), I know you believe there is more opportunity to get students safely to school via buses, walking, cycling and scootering with appropriate funding and infrastructure, and that this will assist the current congestion on our roads – because that’s exactly what you wrote to me.

You also told me that in your personal view there can be a re-prioritisation of the existing ratepayer contribution from other activities to increase safe student and commuter travel options – bravo!

And you also quite rightly point out that rate-payers are not an endless pit of money. But I say to you, priority issues require priority investment.

Be the responsive and responsible Council that is prepared to reinstate free school buses in order to address real and immediate issues, that will also reap longer-term benefits and positive flow-on effects. BOPRC, step up and do the right thing! I know you can do it. Be that Council.

-By Antoon Moonen