School stands up against bus loading rules

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Wanaka Primary School is continuing to fight for changes to New Zealand’s school bus rule, which allows children to stand if all seats are taken.

Earlier this month, the school’s board of trustees raised the issue after discovering some children are required to stand in the bus aisles to and from school.

Board of trustees chairman Andrew Howard said the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) used a certificate of loading regime that specifically allowed school buses to load children in such numbers that some were permitted to stand if all seats were taken.

Regulations vary depending on bus size. In the case of the bus photographed, 67 primary school pupils could be seated and 22 could stand.

Trustees agreed the way NZTA and Ministry of Education worked together on the matter was fundamentally flawed and required an urgent review.

“I was very surprised to hear that standing is not only allowed, but positively encouraged under the current system,” Mr Howard said.

“We consider children of any age having to stand in the aisles of school buses to be extremely unsafe and potentially life-threatening.”

To help improve the situation on the school’s Luggate to Wanaka bus run, an extra service had been added, he said.

That means the early run gets children to school a lot earlier than necessary, and children on the last run arrive just in time.

He said he did not have an issue with the bus service, Gobus, which was contracted to the school bus run.

“The school bus companies are really just following the law and ministry’s guidance.”

Gobus driver Ian Gazzard said the children’s safety was the No1 priority.

“[As a bus driver] you are very conscious of the precious cargo on board.”

He said while there were times when children were standing, “every day is different.”

Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult has raised his concerns on the matter in a letter to the ministry.

“The situation does seem ludicrous.”

Education ministry head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said all ministry school buses were operating in compliance with the certificate of loading, which was in line with NZTA safety requirements.

“Serious injuries on school buses are extremely rare, and we don’t plan, at this time, to set a requirement for loading that is different than the rules that apply to children travelling on public transport to and from school.”

An NZTA spokesman said evidence showed school bus travel in urban and rural areas was the safest form of transport for school children, as there had been only four minor injuries across the country from 2013 to 2017.