In September 2020, Rod Barton successfully moved a motion to begin an Inquiry into the Use of School Buses in Rural and Regional Victoria. The Inquiry held a number of hearings, and the final report was published on the 30 November 2021.
The report made a number of recommendations to the Government, including that the Victorian Government inform local communities of spare capacity on school buses before downsizing buses with declining patronage. It also recommended that the Victorian Government direct individual school bus networks to allocate seating for the general public at the front of the bus if capacity allows.
The full report can be found here: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/eic-lc/article/4617
The Government is required to respond within six months of the report being tabled.
It is vital that we address the transport disadvantage experienced throughout regional and rural Victoria.
Rod Barton believes that regional Victoria deserves to be better connected and have more frequent and reliable public transport networks. To do this, we must create a solution that can be cost-effective, flexible, and place-based to best meet the needs of local communities. The school bus could be this solution.
The Connecting Regional Victoria Report 2016 found that many regional communities have suggested using the local school bus to improve transport options. This could be by allowing the wider public on the school bus route, so they can get into larger towns and regional centres, or by using the buses during off-peak hours for additional services.
The regional Victorian School Bus Program consists of 1450 contracted school buses. When these buses are not driving 65,000 or so students to school, they often sit idle. Moreover, on many buses, there also exist spare seats that could be used to help the wider public get from rural areas to larger towns and regional centres. The irony is that these spare assets exist alongside severe transport disadvantage.
With a lack of alternative transport options, there is a dependency on cars to get around. This disadvantages youth who are dependent on lifts, low-income earners that struggle with the financial burden of running a car and senior citizens who require flexible transport arrangements.
Improving the transport options in rural and regional Victoria is critical in improving education and employment opportunities for youths, creating more connected communities, mitigating transport disadvantage, and creating a more equitable society.
Rod Barton believes that we have an obligation to explore how existing assets can be more efficiently utilised and, in this case, improve the mobility of regional Victorians.
This inquiry was about listening to regional Victorians, understanding their priorities and coming up with innovative transport solutions to meet their community needs.
The Victorian legislative council economy and infrastructure committee will commence a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday that will consider expanding school bus services in regional areas to the general public. Committee chair Enver Erdogan said the inquiry would hear about whether school bus services could be used to enhance the mobility of others in the community who lived in regional and remote parts of the state.
Getting around in regional Victoria is not easy if you don’t have a car. Some parts of regional Victoria have public transport like buses and trains, but other areas have nothing. Even in towns with public transport, routes or timetables don’t work for everyone. Compare regional Victoria with the middle ring of suburbs in Melbourne.
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