NDIS has industry concerned

BusVic made its opposition to moving the oversight of funding and regulation of existing state-based special school bus systems to the Federal Government known recently

NDIS has industry concerned
BusVic executive director Chris Lowe says standards of safety will be compromised if the oversight of funding and regulation of existing state-based special school bus systems goes to the Federal Government


The Productivity Commission is holding an inquiry into the costs of the Federal Government National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and the bus industry raised its concerns around changes to the oversight of special school bus services in an official submission to the inquiry earlier this year.

This inquiry is intended to inform the final design of the full scheme prior to its commencement.

As far as the bus industry in concerned, existing state-based special school bus systems have been working effectively and efficiently since the 1950's, and changing the way they operate poses a number of practical problems for the bus industry.

Transitioning the funding and regulation, including the administrative oversight of these services to the federal realm – via the NDIS – will have severe consequences on the quality and efficiency of services, would not be in the best interests of students, their families or the specialist schools, and will also have an adverse impact on public safety, according to BusVic.

The bus and coach industry recommended that the existing, state-based special school bus transport programs should be excised from the NDIS.

BusVic is the project lead for the national bus and coach industry on the NDIS and its submission reflected the view of the national bus and coach industry.


A word from the wise

BusVic executive director Dr Chris Lowe says the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) seems to have forgotten that the safety and efficiency of existing special school bus networks are second to none.

"We know the federal government can’t afford the full scope of the NDIS and is looking for efficiencies, but why try and take something from the states that works perfectly well?" he says.

"The NDIA have not thought this through. After more than two years of trying to understand what it is that the NDIA want; they are still unable to tell us. They also keep on deferring a very expensive trial at Nelson Park School.

"We are not surprised the trial is yet to get underway. It’s not going to work.  It’s unfortunate that the NDIA can see fit to waste $600,000 of taxpayers’ money on a trial that has a flawed methodology."

Around Australia, state governments fund – to varying extents – exclusive, special school bus systems that convey children with a disability deemed eligible by the state as requiring support to and from their special school each school day. This collective investment amounts to $184 million annually.

Each special school bus is fitted with more equipment than a bus or coach used to transport children without disabilities; equipment deemed necessary by the state government to convey these children to and from their special school in a safe and efficient manner, and virtually all of the special school buses have a dedicated supervisor on board in addition to the driver, who is trained in tending to the needs of the children during the journey.


These are specialised services

Eighty-five per cent of the special school bus services in Victoria have a journey time of between 60 and 120 minutes, and the majority of contracted special school bus services operate in regional and rural parts over long distances. Demand-responsive modes are not going to be able to charge less than $20 per trip than the presently paid rates on a per-capita basis and meet the same level of support and safety delivered by the existing services.

"The costs of providing bespoke transport services for children with a disability to get to and from their special school will far exceed the costs of transporting them in a special school bus on a per capita basis – with very little, if any, positive outcomes delivered," Lowe explains.

"Several officers of the NDIA have mentioned to representatives of BusVic and its members at various meetings that the market should decide the price of conveying children with a disability to and from their special school.

"This is of great concern to the national bus and coach industry as governments in each jurisdiction insist on bus operators adhering to rigorous and costly bus and coach accreditation regimes so as to have the highest standards of public safety. These costs are typically recovered by the operator via the special school bus service contract.

"But for any new or start up operator, such as non-accredited community transport operator to submit a bid to convey a child with a disability of, say, $15 without demonstrating their capability, competency and skill to perform what is a very specialised task to the relevant bus regulator, would provide an unfair advantage to non-accredited operators.

"This would yield a 'race to the bottom' in pricing, and the quality of the service would deteriorate manifestly. Worse still, it would compromise the level of safety of the service and the level of safety afforded to the child."

To sum up the bus industry position, traditional market approaches comprising many providers being available for consumers to choose from are not financially viable in student transport given the complexities and need for long-term capital, human and relationship investment.

BusVic has strongly recommended that the NDIA maintains and builds upon the current transport support arrangements in place for students attending specialist schools by leaving the existing state-based special school bus transport service arrangements funded and co-ordinated by state governments and not having these services form part of the NDIS.

Why is industry concerned?

  • Including special school transport in the NDIS is unaffordable
  • Demand-responsive transport does not have the routine characteristics that students with a disability, families and schools rely upon for a safe and efficient school transport service
  • Special schools are built for buses, not cars
  • High standards of public safety will be compromised
  • Reporting lines for education staff, including principals, will cause tension
  • The productivity of the schools will diminish

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