The $1.4 million fee to hire buses to cope with the start of the free school bus travel scheme on September 3 has been labelled a “waste of money” by Labor MLA Wayne Berry.

ACTION has hired 17 50-seat buses from the NSW State Transit Authority to cope with the expected 15 per cent increase in the number of students catching buses to and from school.

Mr Berry said yesterday that it was a waste of money to hire the buses simply to fulfill the Government’s promise of starting the scheme before the Legislative Assembly election in October.

“It just demonstrates the scheme was never thought out,” Mr Berry said.

“It’s the first time ACTION has used second-hand buses . . . we’re using redundant buses to carry our kids around.” He labeled the scheme itself as very unfair, saying its $27 million cost over four years would only benefit a quarter of Canberra’s students.

Mr Berry also said that it was a concern that the NSW buses did not have screens to prevent any objects thrown by passengers hitting the driver.

ACTION executive director Guy Thurston said the buses were an interim measure until the exact demand for school buses could be determined, and until the school bus timetable could be redesigned for the new school year in February, when 10 new permanent buses would be delivered.

Mr Thurston said the buses were of a high standard, and that drivers and ACTION’s occupational health and safety committees had not deemed the screens to be essential.

A spokeswoman for Urban Services Minister Brendan Smyth defended the cost of hiring the buses, saying it had always been intended to do so.

Because Labor had promised to scrap the scheme if elected it was up to the public to decide in the election whether the scheme was worthwhile.

If the buses were good enough for use in NSW under the Labor Government they were adequate for the ACT, the spokeswoman said.

Canberra Times 24 August 2001

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