Primary school aged children on the Central Coast are being left to walk long and dangerous distances after Transport for NSW has denied numerous appeals for school bus passes.
The State Government’s rigid policy on school bus passes has been a headache for parents at the busy beginning to the school year, says Member for Swansea, Yasmin Catley.
“Unsafe roads, a lack of pedestrian crossings and long distances were some of the major concerns of parents who have unsuccessfully applied for School Opal cards for their children,” she said.
The problem first came to the attention of Central Coast Councillor, Jillian Hogan, when a Buff Point parent, Sharna, applied for free bus passes for her young sons, but was told they were ineligible because they lived 1.3km from the school, and not the required 1.6km distance.
Another parent from Gwandalan was told she would have to provide a specialist’s medical report every year as evidence that her child might be eligible.
Hogan and Catley teamed up to appeal to Transport for NSW to overturn this, and similar other decisions, however, Catley says “the State Government’s policy is unnecessarily harsh”.
Under the current rules primary school aged children are eligible for free travel only when travelling to and from school, and if their home is more than 2.3km walking distance (1.6km straight line distance), and for secondary school aged children 2.9km (2km straight line distance).
The Buff Point parents’ application for School Opal cards for their twin children, who have just started Year 3, was denied, even though their other child still has access to a School Opal pass.
These young children have to walk along a dangerous 1.3km route to Budgewoi Public School along main roads that have no crossings, traffic lights or footpaths, and includes crossing Scenic Dve.
They are not only concerned for their own children but about the number of families in Buff Point whose children have to walk the unsafe route to school.
Councillor Hogan has been working on safety issues such as bus drop-offs, pathways and signs on the roundabout at Buff Point and neighbouring streets, and says that “the intersection on Scenic Dve is extremely dangerous and the expectation that children should cross the busy road is ludicrous”.
“All children have the right to be safe and parents need to feel confident that their children have arrived to school safely”.
It is a similar story for Eliza, who attends Gwandalan primary school and had her pass request denied after Transport for NSW deemed a medical report from the child’s doctor as insufficient evidence to maintain free travel between her home and the school.
The family lives 1.3km by straight line from the school, just 300m short of the eligibility for a School Opal card.
Mother Fiona is disappointed in the government’s requirement that she obtain a specialist medical report each year.
“This will likely cost several hundred dollars, significantly reducing any cost saving associated with the free school travel concession,” she said.
She, too, is worried about the lack of footpaths and pedestrian crossing facilities on the route to the school.
Yasmin Catley has called on Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, to immediately review his “unfair” policy and “consider the safety of these children”.
“You’d think it was a basic principle that children are able to get to school safely and for free,” Catley said.
“Children shouldn’t be penalised by being forced to walk to school across busy roads because they don’t fit into some arbitrary prescriptive rule.
“The Transport Minister has time and time again refused to grant subsidised travel passes to young, vulnerable children in our community and I am appalled that Transport for NSW has not taken the time to investigate these matters further, given the serious safety concerns raised by parents.”
This newspaper sought a comment from Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, but did not receive a response by publication deadline.
Media release, Feb 10
Swansea MP, Yasmin Catley
Media statement, Feb 28
Central Coast Councillor, Jillian Hogan