Parents are pulling their children off buses and driving them to school after Auckland Transport's latest attempt to axe dedicated school buses and make school children catch regular public transport.

Diocesan School for Girls fears it will add more than 100 cars a day coming to the school, further clogging up streets around Epsom before and after the school bell.

One Diocesan parent who has started driving her children to school, Penny Tucker, said the new bus system is diabolically worse. She is printing car stickers which say "Auckland Transport killed our school bus" to raise the issue for motorists stuck in traffic.

The impact on our parents has been essentially moving students from school buses back into cars and parents driving to school

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The Epsom cluster of public and private schools are banding together to fight the loss of dedicated school buses, which are part of a new central city bus network that came into effect on July 8.

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This follows a similar outrage in East Auckland last year that forced AT to reinstate some school buses and improve other bus services after more than 1400 parents signed a petition. AT admitted it "could have done a better job" in engaging with parents earlier.

Diocesan principal Heather McRae said AT's plan was dumped on schools halfway through the year with virtually no consultation, with some buses arriving after school starts and before school finishes.

What's more, she said, AT are being unrealistic about practical and safety issues for young students being forced onto regular public transport, having to change buses with heavy bags and being left on the side of the road when full buses go past.

Taffic at the end of school day for Diocesan School for Girls. 08 August New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig
Taffic at the end of school day for Diocesan School for Girls. 08 August New Zealand Herald photograph by Michael Craig

The school's planning and business director, Paul McDowell-Hook, said the number of school buses from the eastern bays to the Epsom schools had been cut from 10 to two and the Mt Eden bus had been cancelled with students being pushed onto the Outer Link bus.

"The impact on our parents has been essentially moving students from school buses back into cars and parents driving to school, which is slightly counter-intuitive of AT's main mission to get people out of cars and into buses," McDowell-Hook said.

McRae said the school was looking to set up and shared bus routes with other schools at a cost of about $100,000. The school is also inviting local schools to participate in a professional survey of parents to present to AT.

"I think it will show there are fewer students catching the bus or have significantly disrupted times because of their new regime," she said.

Epsom Girls Grammar is happy to be part of the survey on the bus changes.
Epsom Girls Grammar is happy to be part of the survey on the bus changes.

A spokeswoman for Epsom Girls Grammar said the school was happy to be part of the survey.

St Cuthbert's school principal Justine Mahon said the girls school was monitoring any impact of the changed bus routes on students, talking with parents and working with other Epsom schools on the survey to have a "meaningful dialogue" with AT.

An AT spokesman said the council body was aware of the concerns by schools and parents prior to the third term and worked with schools to make adjustments before the initial proposals were implemented, including an extra bus from the eastern bays to Epsom from day one.

He said AT would welcome the results of the survey, saying it would use the results to evaluate whether further changes need to be made.

"Auckland Transport continues to monitor the patronage, capacity and reliability of bus services, including the school bus services between the eastern bays and Epsom schools," said the spokesman, saying a number of schools had received extra school bus services as part of the new central city bus network.

The spokesman said school bus services are funded from the same pool as all public transport and it is important they complement, not duplicate, the rest of the system.

"If there was a public bus running along the same route as a school bus, it would not be a good use of resources to keep the school bus," he said.

Ministry of Education infrastructure service head Kim Shannon said most school buses in Auckland are run by Auckland Transport, by schools, or are commercial services.

"We engage regularly with Auckland Transport and are aware of their planned changes to school bus services in Auckland. We are not currently planning to add Ministry-funded services there," she said.

A parent's view

Penny Tucker has taken to social media to vent her frustration with the loss of a bus service for her children, comparing Auckland Transport's behaviour to the television series, Yes Minister, and getting car stickers printed which say "Auckland Transport killed our school bus".

Since the bus service was canned, the Kohimarama mother has the options of driving her children in "stationary" traffic to St Heliers or Eastridge to get on a bus or across town to Diocesan School for Girls at Epsom.

Since returning from overseas, Tucker was struck by the extent to which Auckland's traffic woes are exacerbated by school traffic, "particularly around Remuera and Epsom where the herds of mummy limos hack their way through the suburbs to pick up and drop off kids".

"I am intrigued by this bizarre initiative to get more people into cars and onto our roads. I am at a loss to understand why I often see near empty buses driving around Auckland when the already very full school buses are being chopped," she wrote on Facebook.

After making inquiries with Auckland Transport, Tucker said she felt trapped in an episode of Yes Minister, the British political satire of a minister's struggles with the civil service.

"In terms of planning and vision, they (AT) have taken the inconceivably inept and elevated it to a finely-honed pinnacle of abject incompetence.

"If the school bus service was better I think it would be possible to at least double the number of kids and halve the number of cars. Although that requires buses to be reliable, safe and - this really makes me laugh - scheduled around actual school start and finish times," Tucker wrote.

In a letter to AT this month, Tucker said the new central Auckland bus system simply doesn't work. How did she know that? From talking with dozens of parents and hearing their stories.

"You've got random cars blocking busy main roads to drop children off because the buses no longer service bus stops that were well subscribed and mostly working.

"You now have reduced the number of buses designated for kids so jam packed that dozens of kids can't get on. For example, a bus that departs Sacred Heart leaves half the Glendowie riders just metres down the road stranded on the pavement.

"And you know that 'Epsom Cluster' of schools ... you've just added hundreds of cars heading in that direction at peak times.

"Remember the school holidays Aucklanders? Yes, that's when you could actually drive somewhere without packing meals and diversions for an epic journey of a few kilometres across town."