Parents at some East Auckland schools are in shock at Auckland Transport plans to axe dedicated school buses and ask primary school children to catch public buses.
Botany Downs mother Stephanie Tame said the changes would force her children, aged 6 and 9, to walk through a reserve and across a road to get to Botany Downs Primary School in the mornings, and to walk across four-lane Botany Rd to get home after school.
More than 450 other parents have signed a petition started by Cockle Bay parent Anastacia Kirilo asking Auckland Transport to reinstate the existing school buses which deliver and collect children at school gates.
The changes affect 17 schools in East Auckland and school buses from the area to 10 schools in Central Auckland.
Tame and another mother Angelika Sansom, who both live in Golfland Drive, said their children currently catch a bus that serves several schools and takes 48 minutes to reach Botany Downs Primary School at the end of its run.
But they said time was less important than the safety of dropping and picking up their children directly at the school.
"My children have been catching that bus almost four years and they have had the same bus driver all that time," Sansom said.
"He knows all the children - where they get on and where they get off. He seriously looks out for those kids. The children feel safe with him, they know him by his first name."
Auckland Transport spokesman James Ireland said the changes would replace the school bus with a public bus that will run every 10 minutes from Botany Rd near Golfland Drive to a public stop at 19 Millhouse Drive.
"They [children] will walk through Millhouse Park and cross Mirrabooka Ave at a manned crossing at the school gates," he said.
After school, Auckland Transport's website advises parents to put their children on the public bus route 72M, which would drop them on the wrong side of Botany Rd and require them to cross the road to get to Golfland Drive.
But Ireland said another option would be for the children to walk down Mirrabooka Ave to catch a school bus in Botany Rd that would take them into Golfland Drive.
"What we are going to look at is whether we can re-route a little part of that down to the school," he said.
"We can't make every little change, but sometimes there are things like this that come up that were not in our consultation."
Botany Downs Primary School principal Bruce Trezise said he was not aware of any consultation before he was informed about the changes a few days ago.
He said only about 10 of the school's 600 pupils used the school bus, but he would talk to Auckland Transport about it.
"I support the parents' concerns over public transport being suggested as an option, because I don't really see that as an option for very young children," he said.
Kirilo said two of her children attend school out of the immediate area and will be required to catch two buses to get there, with a change at Panmure railway station.
"Currently they catch a dedicated school bus that takes them from our street to their school," she said.
"This new journey will be longer, partly on a public bus, and they will spend more time in transit and the cost is going to be approximately $8 a day each, which is more than double the current cost, this will create financial pressure for our family.
"I understand that the bus my younger child catches home from primary school will be obsolete. In order for me to pick her up from school I would need to cut my work hours by an hour per day, to leave in time to get to school to secure a park and pick her up."
But Ireland said the changes were part of a general restructuring of bus timetables across Auckland aimed at creating faster and more frequent services through hubs such as railway stations. For example, the public bus from Botany Rd near Golfland Drive to Millhouse Rd would take only five minutes and run every 10 minutes.
"They can turn up, they don't have to worry about the timetable," he said.
"We are not scrapping school buses. We are changing some of them because it doesn't make sense [to keep them] where we can provide a better service."
Auckland Council Howick ward councillor Dick Quax said only two of the 17 affected schools, Howick Intermediate and Our Lady Star of the Sea School, had complained to Auckland Transport, and he understood that Star of the Sea was "satisfied with the answers they got back from Auckland Transport".
"So it seems to have gone reasonably smoothly," he said.
Asked about Kirilo's petition, he said: "We have a population of 140,000 people [in Howick ward] so 450 people doesn't seem to be a great number."
Ireland said bus routes had already been changed in South Auckland in October last year and in West Auckland this June.
"In the first six months of the new network in South Auckland there was a 15 per cent increase in passenger trips, compared to a network wide increase of 7 per cent over the same time period," he said.
East Auckland bus routes will change on December 10, except for school buses which will change from the new school year. The changes will extend to central Auckland and the North Shore next year.