Fair Go: Should the school bus route dictate the school your kids can go to?

At the top of the South Island, in Golden Bay, parents are up in arms over a decision by the only school bus company, Golden Bay Coachlines, to ban ineligible pupils from riding the bus.

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Loads of Takaka parents say no and it turns out it’s not straightforward. Source: Fair Go

Ineligible students are those who are going to a school other than the one closest to them, but parents say the closest school isn’t always the one that suits their children, so they feel this decision is taking away their right to choose.

The ban means either families organise their own transport, which for the longer bus runs can be 20-25kms and take several hours, or, if the distance is shorter, pupils have the option of walking or cycling to school on some pretty dangerous, narrow, busy rural roads.

Originally, all students in the area could ride the Ministry of Education-funded school bus without charge, then last year the Coachline company asked the ineligible students to pay - $100 per pupil per term- and although there was initially some push back from parents, they had accepted that under Ministry rules, the company could do this.

But then at the end of last year, the company said there was a shortage of seats on the buses, and banned all ineligible
students entirely. Parents, though, say there is no seating issue - the buses are regularly half-full or less.

They say they’re prepared to pay, and want their kids back on the school bus, and don't understand why discussions with the bus company appear to have stalled.

Golden Bay Coachlines says in the past, some parents have refused to pay the fee, and have been angry, hostile and abusive to Coachlines staff.

They say it is the families, not the company, who by their choice of school, have made their children ineligible.

They say they are not a charity, and that they have been working towards trying to find a solution.