CONVERSATIONS about the transport challenges for people living and working in regional and rural areas needs to be broader than just looking at allowing the general public to access school bus services, Wellington Shire Council will tell a state parliament inquiry.
Council has made six recommendations in its submission to a parliamentary committee which is looking into extending the use of school buses by the wider community to increase mobility in regional areas.
It will support the Department of Transport to allow discretionary conversion of dedicated school buses to route services.
Council would also like to see school bus routes between key locations (such as Woodside to Sale, Briagolong to Sale via Maffra, and coastal routes) converted into public bus routes.
In addition, it is advocating for a change in Department of Education and Training policy to allow people with student passes from post-secondary vocational and tertiary institutions to travel on the school bus network.
Council also suggested incentives be provided for school bus operators to offer public transport services outside of the school bus timetable.
It would also like to see a review of the exemption for Disability Discrimination Act compliance for school buses, given that many are or will be also used for public transport routes.
But council will submit that the transport challenges experienced by rural and regional Victorians need to be broader than increasing access to school buses.
While council acknowledged there was “no one ‘magic bullet’ solution to transport challenges experienced in rural and regional Victoria”, it believes cooperation needs to occur across all levels of government and within communities.
It says this will “enhance public, community and ride-share transport options and ensure that an equitable transport fare system is in place, that is not based on the number of kilometres travelled during a journey”.
Councillor Gayle Maher said this was a key point.
“If we were actually looking at the kilometres travelled from Port Albert to Sale, I don’t think too many of us could actually afford it,” she said.
“We really need to ensure that affordability is just one of the considerations that we ask to be considered.”
In its submission, council stated the need for public transport in the shire varied and included young adults needing to attend post-secondary education, people with disabilities who were unable to drive, older adults not willing or unable to drive, and vulnerable adults who didn’t have access to a vehicle or a driver’s licence.
There are minimal to no public transport options for people in Dargo, Golden Beach, Paradise Beach, Woodside, Briagolong, Licola, Coongulla, Newry, Boisdale and Port Albert to access services and facilities in Sale, Yarram, Traralgon or Bairnsdale.
There is no public transport between Sale and Yarram.
There are no on-demand community transport services operating across Wellington Shire, although some community organisations have buses.
“During recent consultations with Wellington Shire residents to develop the new four-year council plan and municipal public health and wellbeing plan, community feedback emphasised the need for increased public transport services to facilitate connections to health, medical, recreation and social services and support.
“This was also a key finding from PTV’s 2015 public transport review,” council said in its submission.
“Wellington Shire Council acknowledges the substantial cost of adding new buses and services to public transport and school bus networks.
“Better use of existing services is the most cost-effective way for rural communities to access essential transport services.”
Council said removing the Disability and Discrimination Act exemptions for school bus services would improve universal accessibility should the wider public be allowed to use them.