December 11, 2023

‘Out of control’: Children left on side of road crying as bus cancellations cause havoc

Watch: Frustrated parent Alexia Welsh is having to pick her children up from the bus stop and drop them off at school due to cancellations.

Children are being left on the side of the road as bus cancellations and shortages continue to cause havoc in Auckland.

One frustrated parent has given up on the public transport system, saying it is forcing people into cars.

Parent Alexia Welsh said there are five different public buses her children should be able to catch to Rangitoto College in Auckland’s North Shore, but instead every day she is having to pick them up from the bus stop and drop them off at school due to cancellations.

“It’s just stressful on them. To be honest, we’ve given up and I just take them every day now. We don’t even try to catch a bus anymore,” Welsh told AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green on Friday.

But Welsh isn’t the only parent being forced to take time off work to drop her kids at school.

Rangitoto College principal Patrick Gale confirmed in a statement there has been a significant increase in transport issues being reported to the school

“This includes students being left at bus stops as buses drive straight past, buses being late to school, and buses being overcrowded. This applies to public and school buses,” Gale said.

He said the school has had a meeting with the Ministry of Education transport contract manager to raise these concerns and have been assured by Auckland Transport that they will be reviewing their scheduling.

“However we do not believe this is being treated with the necessary urgency to ensure the safe and timely passage to school that students deserve,” Gale said.

National Party’s Erica Stanford, who is the MP for East Coast Bays, said she has heard of kids in her electorate being left on the side of the road crying by both public and school buses.

“Parents are getting calls from distressed children. It is completely out of control – so many people are upset about this,” Stanford told AM’s political panel on Friday.

Ministry of Education school transport group manager James Meffan said in a statement the public transport sector is facing challenges in recruiting and retaining staff.

“As with all transport services, Ministry-funded bus services are susceptible to disruption from staff unavailability,” Meffan said. 

“We were fortunate that in 2022 that our services experienced minimal disruption from driver unavailability. Now that the 2023 school year is underway, our transport service providers report they expect to be able to continue to deliver services, despite workforce pressures.”

During AM’s political panel on Friday, Transport Minister Michael Wood reiterated the ongoing shortage of drivers which he said stemmed from years of systematically poor pay and conditions for bus drivers.

Wood said the Government has invested as of last year about $90 million to bring pay conditions up and keep people driving both public and school buses and they are beginning to see those numbers improve.

On December 21, the Government announced additional funding for school bus services. 

“This funding is only being applied in regions where public transport wages are demonstrably higher than comparable school bus services, and where we’ve determined that the region has already applied wage increases,” Meffan said.

“School transport providers are invited to opt in to receive this funding and must agree to pass on this, and any subsequent funding increases, to the affected drivers. To date, 96 percent of Ministry-contracted operators have opted to receive this uplift.”

However, Stanford blamed the Government’s immigration settings for the dire bus driver shortage.

“Here’s the kicker… Finally, after it was decided that it was a crisis in December last year, Michael changed the settings a little bit around immigration, allowing pathways to residency for bus drivers,” Stanford said.

“We had 90 bus drivers between July and December apply to come to New Zealand, as soon as he changed the setting it was 600 – great, too late!”

Stanford is chairing a local meeting on March 27 with parents to hear their frustrations.

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