Bus policy chaos

MP Brad Battin, Michelle Harvey and her daughter Kadence.

By Taylah Eastwell

A Cockatoo mother is calling on PTV and the Department of Education to amend its School Bus Policy after a decision to allow her daughter to travel on the local school bus was reversed.

Prior to her daughter beginning Year 7 at Emerald Secondary College, Michelle Harvey lodged a school bus pass application through Pubic Transport Victoria (PTV) and was pleased to receive a return email stating her daughter had a place on the bus.

But when Ms Harvey enquired about whether her daughter could get on at a bus stop closer to her home, the permission was withdrawn altogether.

“I sent an email just seeing if they would mind because the bus stop they indicated was just at the top of a really steep dirt road and there was a closer bus stop about four to five minutes distance, rather than sending her up the steep hill,” Ms Harvey said.

“When they replied back, they obviously had another look at the application, and said actually, the application has been rejected,” she said.

The reason behind the withdrawal of permission, according to Ms Harvey, was because the “school bus policy states that any house within 1.6kms of a public bus, the students must take the public bus”.

Ms Harvey said her house is approximately 1.3km from the public bus.

“The public bus is four times the distance than the school bus stop and they are saying no. It’s ridiculous, she has never taken public transport on her own, she’s a 12-year-old kid,” Ms Harvey said.

“There is obviously a place for her on the school bus because they approved it to start with, it was only when I asked a question that they decided to reject it,” she said.

Fed up, Ms Harvey reached out to Gembrook MP Brad Battin and said her information was passed on to Minister for Education, James Merlino.

Mr Batttin said his office has been contacted by a number of Cockatoo residents concerned for their child’s safety in recent years when being forced to take a public bus instead of the dedicated school bus.

“Forcing children as young as 12 walk over 1km to a bus stop in rural areas like Cockatoo with many unsealed roads is not often an easy or often safe feat. Consideration must be taken by the Andrews Labor Government and Minister Merlino for the environment in which these students live in when deciding on the criteria for the School Bus Program.”

“With the Minister James Merlino’s electorate just next door you would think he would understand how the current criteria for the School Bus Program in the Hills is not practical due to the towns lack of road and pedestrian infrastructure.”

“The Minister must explain why Ms Harvey was accepted in the first round of applications and then had her child’s pass revoked at a later date, causing much confusion and stress for the start of the school year.”

Ms Harvey said her daughter is feeling “pretty overwhelmed”.

“Starting a new school, it’s totally different from primary school so she’s got to learn the ropes and I just think getting to and from school should be the least of her worries,” she said.

“Personally I think they need to reassess the school bus policy. There are other families in the same situation who have a place on the bus.

“Just pick up all the kids. It’s safer, money wise the bus is already there. I think their point of view is that the public bus is always there so we should use it. My point of view is more of a safety thing, put them all together,” she said.

“I don’t care about the policy, I care about my kid. They are just hiding behind the policy,” she said.

PTV said the Department of Education was best placed to answer queries about school bus allocations.

The Department of Education said offers to travel on the school bus may be withdrawn if it is found that a public transport is available within 1.6km of the child’s residence.

“There are a number of transport services available for students residing in the Cockatoo area to attend school. Where a student has reasonable access to public transport services, they are expected to use these services to travel to school,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.

James Merlino MP was contacted for comment.