A petition has been launched calling for a free school bus trial to be extended to the wider Bay of Plenty.

It also calls for school-aged children to be able to travel for free on buses at all times, including weekends.

Transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga drafted the petition which has already gained 131 of the 200 signatures sought.

It follows the Bay of Plenty Regional Council decision in June to extend a current Welcome Bay free school bus trial to the rest of Tauranga city from January.

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The petition, on the Action Station website, asks for the regional council to extend the free school bus trial to allow all Bay of Plenty school children to travel for free on all buses during the week and weekends.

Greater Tauranga's Heidi Hughes said while the upcoming trial was admirable, there were still empty buses that could be full. Hughes felt allowing school children to travel for free would help address this.

Chairman of Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Public Transport Committee Lyall Thurston says a petition for free school buses for the wider Bay is welcomed. Photo / File
Chairman of Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Public Transport Committee Lyall Thurston says a petition for free school buses for the wider Bay is welcomed. Photo / File

"Given all of the social and environmental benefits of this trial, and given that this is the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, not the Tauranga Council, we would also like to propose that the trial is extended to include the whole of the Bay of Plenty. Congestion may not be the main driver for these communities, but we have heard their buses are also not at capacity, and they are certainly not short of struggling families facing the same financial stresses as Tauranga families."

A regional council spokesman said Whakatāne and Rotorua were not included in the trial because "there is a common view in Tauranga that if access to schools on public buses was free for students, this would help resolve Tauranga's peak time traffic congestion".

The Ministry of Education also runs free school buses in Whakatāne and Rotorua.

Regional council chair of the Public Transport Committee Lyall Thurston said he welcomed the petition because "that's democracy".

"But at the end of the day, someone has to pay."

The regional council's June agenda stated the forecast net cost to the regional council of $174,000 for 2019/20 and $182,000 for 2020/21 for the upcoming trial.

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Thurston said the upcoming trial was part one of a two-step process. The second part involved addressing potential to extend free-bus hours.

"Tauranga is unique because of the natures of typography access issues and infrastructure issues; this is why we have really gone to great lengths to see this trial take the pressure off infrastructure in Tauranga."

Bay of Plenty Regional Council transport policy manager Garry Maloney said Tauranga's school network was a legacy of the Ministry of Education which provided the service until the end of 2014.

"No other community in the region has had the same access to a free central-government school bus network, instead, having to rely on the provision of a universal public bus service.

"As per the consultation in the Annual Plan, there is a common view in Tauranga that if access to schools on public buses was free for students, this would help resolve Tauranga's peak time traffic congestion."