More buses on road as school scheme begins

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Seventeen extra school buses will hit Canberra’s roads today, with existing services expected to be full to bursting as the Government’s pre-election school bus scheme kicks off.

Just under 17,400 students have already received their free bus passes, with about 900 applications rejected. Urban Services Minister Brendan Smyth said 17 extra buses had been hired from the NSW State Transit Authority, to fill the gap until new, low-floor, ACTION buses were ready.

Also a fleet of smaller vehicles, including Tarago vans, were ready as back-up.

Mr Smyth said the scheme would see a more than 20 per cent jump in school bus patronage, and that this had been built into the costings. About 15,000 students used buses to get to school now. Once the plan was in full swing, an estimated 22,000 would travel using the free passes.

Announced in the ACT Government’s May Budget, the plan provides free travel for older students living more than 2km from school, younger ones must live at least 1.6km from school.

Mr Smyth said the scheme would be good for families, and that the Government hoped it would have a positive effect electorally.

The Government was determined that the ALP would not win office in the October poll and scrap the plan.

An Australia Institute report on the scheme, issued at the weekend, said non-government school families would be the biggest beneficiaries. Also annual costs were likely to blow out from $4.5 million to $6.4 million by the end of the decade.

Government school parents, principals and unions have joined the Opposition in vocal protests against the plan. They say the money would be much better spent inside schools.

ACTION said applications were still arriving at a rate of between 50 and 100 a day.

Students who had yet to apply could obtain an application form from their school, or call 131 710. Processing of late applications would take about seven working days.

By CATRIONA JACKSON
The Canberra Times 3 September 2001