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05 February 2020
By LOTTE REITER
Mass public backlash surrounding changes to Horsham bus routes has revealed a deep community desire to ensure transport services remain appropriate for commuters’ needs.
A complex series of toing and froing, largely between the Horsham community and Public Transport Victoria, unfolded after the launch of a revamped Horsham bus network.
The new network, marked by a visit from Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne on Wednesday last week, included changes to both town bus routes and school bus routes.
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For many families and school community members, the latter quickly created widespread confusion and frustration.
This led to a desperate public plea that Public Transport Victoria reinstate the previous school bus timetable.
As it stands, Public Transport Victoria has revoked the school bus changes that occurred last week – returning all school services to the 2019 timetable – while it reviews the service.
New town bus routes remain unaffected and will continue to run as planned.
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy, who was at the forefront of calls for change, said it was a ‘great win’ for Horsham parents, students and educators.
“From Tuesday morning, all school bus routes reverted to last year’s arrangements. It’s a huge win,” she said.
“This just further confirms that access to public transport that suits the needs of the community – whether it is town bus services, school bus services or services that connect Horsham with other communities such as passenger rail – is essential.
“Locals always know best, and the Labor Minister and PTV should have listened when people told them these changes would cause distress and disorder.
“I thank everyone who raised their concerns or made a complaint for helping ensure our region gets the outcomes it deserves.”
Stockton Drive resident and mother of four Liz Pumpa was among people affected by the school bus dilemma who helped spread the word across social media.
Ms Pumpa said the changes had meant school bus stops that had been operating for 10 years were axed, forcing her children to walk one-kilometre with heavy back packs and cross an ‘extremely busy’ main road to get to the nearest stop.
She said many schools had also faced the dilemma where bus timetables failed to coincide with school times, with buses arriving before students finished or too long after.
She said it was inconvenient, unsafe and failed to support student and family needs, so she was pleased to see the previous routes reinstated ‘so quickly’.
“My son started year seven on Wednesday and was waiting for the bus to take him to school and it never arrived,” she said.
“Based on how quickly they backflipped on this, I think it’s very clear that PTV made a big mistake.
“You have to kick up a fuss in numbers, and that was the reason I tried to get this to go viral on Facebook and get parents to call up PTV about their concerns. They would have been inundated from what I heard. We’re not saying there can’t be improvements to the service, but that comes with community consultation and planning, which there was none.”
In a statement, a Public Transport Victoria spokesperson said the authority would assess the school bus network based on public feedback.
They said that any potential changes would involve consultation with ‘schools, local council, parents, students and the wider community’.
Ms Kealy said the statement created uncertainty about the long-term security of the reinstated school bus timetable.
She said communication before original changes occurred and across the past week had been ‘terrible’, and she was concerned, as a result, that further consultation from PTV would even occur.
“PTV said it consulted with the community before these changes were made, however, that’s certainly not the feedback I’m receiving from the community,” she said.
“And it raises a real question, when PTV say they’re going to do further consultation about this, about if a decision has already been made and the consultation is just ticking boxes so it can go ahead.
“Even across the last week it has been complete silence from the minister and the PTV.
“It’s a bit of a snub. We need to know that they’re there for us when things like this happen, but they’ve refused to send even one person down to explain what is going on.
“And that might be alright for parents who have lived here for a long time and know the old school bus routes and how they work, but for people new to the area or sending their children on the school buses for the first time, you just can’t get any information.
“That’s probably been the most disappointing thing about all of this.”
The entire February 5, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!