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Standing room only on the bus

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Published in Warrandyte Diary

By MICHELLE PINI

LUTHER College staff and parents of students believe the safety of children travelling by bus from Warrandyte to the College is at risk.

The only public transport service operating from Warrandyte to Luther, the Ventura school bus service (operated by Transdev) is so congested that bus drivers are forced to drive past some bus stops, leaving children stranded.

Karen Heath, a parent, told the Diary: “It’s just not good enough. I rely on the bus service to get my children to school. It’s impossible to walk and there are no other practical options. I need to know my child has been transported safely to and from school while I am at work.”

Ms Heath, who works as a nurse, says it is impossible to leave work to drive her daughter to or from school if she has been unable to board the bus.

“And, on days of high fire danger, I have had to re-arrange my work schedule as I cannot run the risk of my child being left behind,” she said.

As the only direct bus service on offer, Warrandyte children for whom the bus does not stop, have to catch a train to Ringwood station, board a bus or train to Croydon station and finally take a bus or walk from Croydon station to Luther College.

In a letter to parent, Kerren Sholakis, a representative from Public Transport Victoria (PTV), suggests the above mammoth journey via three separate modes of transport, as a suitable alternative:

“Luther College has two route bus services … travelling straight past the school so students are able to connect with these routes at either Ringwood rail station or Croydon rail station transferring from bus services from … surrounding suburbs.”

Ms Sholakis told the Diary: “It never even occurred to me that my children could be left behind. I believe PTV has a duty of care to our children and I don’t understand why this issue was not dealt with in the first week of term. Surely they have a system and policy in place to handle a situation such as this?”

Apart from being left stranded, the bus service is reportedly so over- crowded that children at the front of the bus need to get off to allow others to alight, causing bus drivers to assume they are all getting off, and then driving off. In addition, children are said to be forced to stand over the yellow safety line as well as sit on each other’s knees and in the baggage area.

The school has received complaints about the problem since late last year with the issue escalating further at the start of this year. Luther College business manager Lester Kerber says: “The public transport system is simply not servicing the number of families who need to use it – they haven’t kept up and children are being put at risk.”

Mr Kerber said the school outlined its concerns at a meeting with the Minister for Education earlier in the term but no solution to the problem has been received as yet.

“We have formally communicated our concerns about student safety due to overcrowding as well as being left stranded, to PTV, the Minister for Transport and the ombudsman. We have also encouraged parents to do the same.”

Transdev’s Emilie van de Graaff said: “We try and work closely with all the schools but it is difficult to anticipate student numbers in advance.”

Transdev conducted investigations to determine the extent of the over-loading in response to complaints from Luther College staff and parents. A larger bus was allocated as well as a partial express route to alleviate overcrowding.

Ms van de Graaff indicated that apart from these adjustments to the service, Transdev is only able to introduce extra buses if directed by PTV.

Ms Tanya Downward of Luther College said it was “extremely frustrating for everyone and very stressful for parents – first term is nearly over but the problem continues. PTV is not acknowledging the gravity of the safety issues”.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder told the Diary: “Luther College is well serviced by existing school bus or route buses. Students from Warrandyte can catch bus route 364 from Warrandyte and change at Ringwood station to route 366.”

Communication to parents in early March from PTV also rejected an additional bus service:

“As funding does become available it is prioritised against public transport needs throughout the state including the provision of bus services to growth areas currently without any services at all. Currently there is no funding available for an additional bus for school services to Luther College.

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