The Stanhope Government has admitted that it has no plans in place to cope with increased bus travel by students as a result of school closures. Nor has it any plans to improve traffic safety measures for students walking or cycling long distances to and from school.
These admissions were made by the Minister for the Territory and Municipal Services, John Hargreaves, in answers to Questions on Notice by the Estimates Committee of the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. Hargreaves told the Estimates Committee that the Government has not estimated what increase in student bus travel is expected over the next four years as a result of the school closures announced in the Towards 2020 Plan. It has not estimated how many new bus services will be required or how many new buses will need to be purchased by ACTION to meet the increased demand.
The Minister also admitted that his Department has not estimated the increase in total expenditure that will need to be budgeted to meet the costs of providing increased bus services such as new buses, additional drivers and other staff and repairs and maintenance.
Another admission by the Minister was that his Department has not determined what additional traffic calming and safety measures will be needed to ensure the safety of young children walking and cycling longer distances to schools outside their neighbourhood. As a result, no additional funding has been budgeted to provide these measures.
The implication of the Minister’s admissions is that many students and their families will not have access to bus services for travelling to new schools, and may face reduced services. There is no commitment to introducing new bus services to meet increased student travel. Indeed, the Government announced in the ACT Budget that the ACTION budget would be cut. This will mean reduced services, not increased services.
Many parents will also have to run the risk of allowing their children to cross major roads without additional pedestrian safety or traffic calming measures. No additional funding has been budgeted for student safety measures.
Over 3,000 students will be displaced by the proposed school closures and will have to travel longer distances to school, many of them by bus, walking or cycling. Not all these children will be able to get to school by private car. If additional bus services and traffic safety measures are not provided, it is inevitable that there will be many more traffic accidents involving young children travelling to and from school.
The Minister for Education, Andrew Barr, told the regional consultation meetings in June that existing bus services would be diverted to cater for any increased demand. But, previous studies of the impact of school closures demonstrate that this plan is clearly inadequate. For example, a University of New South Wales study carried out in 1990 of the proposed closure of 18 primary schools and 3 high schools in the ACT found that there would be a significant increase in student bus travel and that nearly 50 additional bus services and 22 or 23 new buses and drivers would be needed to meet the increased demand.
The Stanhope Government stands condemned by its failure to commit new bus services and traffic safety measures for young children travelling longer distances to and from school. It is ignoring the needs of families with young children and increasing the risk of major accidents. Its lack of planning constitutes Government neglect and incompetence of the highest order.