Farmers are questioning why they have to make big changes on the farm to mitigate climate change yet parents are driving their children to school alongside “half-empty” school buses.
Opposition politicians say school bus rules put some children at risk in rural areas, put unacceptable burdens on parents, and contradict government climate change policies.
Federated Farmers said the rules had left farmers “banging their heads against the wall”.
Spokesperson and Golden Bay dairy farmer Wayne Langford, said farmers were making big changes on their farms to try to mitigate the effects of climate change.
“Farmers have been at the forefront of the climate change discussion, particularly in the last 10 years.
“Then to go to a primary school on a Monday to Friday morning, and see the amount of single cars driving to school because the school bus won’t pick them up, is absolutely ridiculous.”
“We know that these buses are running half empty.”
Golden Bay parent Deborah Rhodes said her “heart was in her mouth” every time her youngest son asked to cycle to school, three kilometres away.
Rhodes mostly drove her three children to high school since the school bus stopped picking them up, three years ago, even though it still drove past the gate of their Collingwood home.
Walking to school was a “liability”, with four one-lane bridges on the road, the dairy farmer said.
Ministry of Education rules – set down in 1904 –stated the children weren’t entitled to a free ride, because they lived closer than 4.8 kilometres to their high school.
While they were initially allowed to get on for a fee, that stopped without explanation, Rhodes said.
She and her husband had stopped milking in the afternoon, to alleviate pressure caused by the school run.
She said the Government had pledged to make public buses emissions free by 2035, and it could “be bold” and make changes clarifying the direction in which rural transport needed to start moving.
“This is about the environment, this is about children’s safety.
“We need to grow up out of this rubbish, it’s time … to re-imagine what we want our world to look like.”
Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith – the National Party’s climate change spokesperson – said he had several complaints a year from people about the policy, “usually where logging trucks were involved or busy roads”.
Not everyone had the option of driving their child to school, and the rules needed to be reviewed to be more flexible, he said.
Former Nelson MP, National List MP Nick Smith said the rules needed updating from a climate change and safety perspective.
“It makes no sense to have half empty school buses passing either parents driving their children to school or in some cases children walking across quite dangerous state highways in getting to school.”
Green party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said she was concerned the Ministry of Education didn’t seem to consider the demands that they were putting on the transport network when they made decisions about school locations.
“Their school bus policy … seems to be trying to minimise the cost to them, rather than get the best outcomes for the community and reduce emissions.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government funded school transport assistance for students who met the ministry’s eligibility criteria and were most in need of transport assistance.
“For all other students, parents, and caregivers are responsible for getting their children to school – with flexibility allowed for local agreements.
“The Ministry of Education’s school transport services run less frequently – just twice each school day – than public transport, so the Government is focusing first on decarbonising the urban public transport fleet.
“In the current school bus tender for daily bus services for eligible students, the ministry is incentivising transport providers to use younger vehicles as a way to reduce vehicle emissions.”