NSW moves on bus belts

This week's move to fund seat belts on NSW country school buses has been deemed a ‘compromise’

NSW moves on bus belts
NSW moves on bus belts

By David Goeldner | July 30, 2013

Following a similar announcement in Victoria where the southern state will phase in school bus seat belts on a risk assessment basis, NSW has made a deeper commitment to the state’s school bus fleet with a pledge to fund all ‘Type A’ contracted school services.

In a joint statement by NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian and Roads and Ports Minister Duncan Gay, the NSW Government will invest $208 million to install seatbelts on buses dedicated school runs in rural and regional NSW within ten years.

For the first time in NSW, seatbelts will progressively be installed and standing phased out on almost 1,700 dedicated school services.

More than 60,000 students across regional and rural NSW travel on these dedicated school buses –known by operators as contract A buses – each day covering more than 50 million kilometres each year.

Buses which run not only school routes, but also regular bus services during the day will not be included in the program.

The commitment to fund the Type A contracts is part of the NSW Government’s adoption of the majority of recommendations from the Independent School Bus Safety Community Advisory Committee’s inquiry into school bus safety in rural and regional NSW.

However, BusNSW Executive Director Darryl Mellish says the policy, while welcome, is a compromise.

"The NSW bus industry accepts the decision to limit the phase-in to dedicated school buses only for contract A as a reasonable compromise taking into account the community views, the costs involved of fitting out all of the rural and regional fleet and the general high safety levels that already exist," Mellish says.

"However, BusNSW is attempting to find out more detail particularly relating to the assumptions that were used for the cost estimates."

Mellish says it was still unclear what recommendations had been adopted, and which ones had been left out.

He says in the development of the committee recommendations BusNSW raised a number of issues including proper enforcement, poor country bus stops and the need for better training and education programs.

"It appears that some of these issues have been considered by the Minister and we look forward in particular to working on proposed improvements to the guidelines governing student Code of Conduct," says Mellish.

"The industry supports the decision, however with such a major policy change, the industry needs more detail to be able to ensure the smooth introduction."

Berejiklian says her Ministry recognised the efforts of the committee in compiling its report, including comprehensive consultation with communities.

"The NSW Government established the School Bus Safety Community Advisory Committee in April 2011 to examine school bus safety in rural and regional NSW and I want to thank the committee members and chair Carolyn Walsh for all their hard work," Berejiklian says.

"The NSW Government is making a substantial financial commitment to addressing an issue which is so important to communities in regional and rural areas."

Other recommendations made by the committee which Transport for NSW will adopt to improve regional and rural school bus safety include:

? regular monitoring of new and emerging vehicle safety technologies and where necessary and appropriate, encouraging their use through regional bus contracts;

? A new Student Code of Conduct to ensure parents, students and bus operators know their responsibilities when it comes to wearing seatbelts;

? encouraging schools to use buses fitted with seatbelts for excursions and other charters;

? developing guidelines which outline responsibilities for rural and regional bus operators to encourage students to wear seatbelts when fitted;

? developing a standard for designing rural bus stops to improve safety;

? reviewing regulations relating to speed limits around buses when school bus warning lights are flashing;

? exploring new ways to communicate with stakeholders to improve student safety around school bus zones;

? rolling out communication strategies to identify, share and promote good school bus safety practice.

Mellish says the NSW Government’s policy announcement will be discussed in detail at BusNSW Rural and Regional seminars during August.

Full details are available at www.transport.nsw.gov.au/content/school-bus-safety-community-advisory-committee

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