Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:59): Just before I start, I have a memory of Mr Finn talking about his time on the school bus with the sticky seats and the shorts! With that visual, I am quite happy to support Mr Barton’s motion to further explore how we can better use the school bus program. I do not think Mr Barton would mind me calling it the bus-sharing motion.
Mr Barton interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Ridesharing-on-a-bus motion. But I must say when I looked at the motion I thought, ‘Hang on, we’ve done this before’. Back in the dim distance, 2017, the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee had an inquiry into lowering the probationary driving age in Victoria to 17. That was instigated by a member in this house, Mr Purcell, from Western Victoria. Ultimately we did not recommend lowering the probationary driving age, but we did recommend reviewing the school bus program. In fact we stated:
… review how the School Bus Program could be better utilised to meet the transport needs of young people from rural areas to access employment, education and training opportunities—
because we heard time and time again, particularly in the regional and rural areas, that the lack of transport excluded many young people from employment opportunities and education opportunities because they just could not get to where they needed to go or, if they did, it would take them a 4-hour round trip, we heard. We heard of a mother having to drive one child 70 kilometres in one direction, come back home, pick up another child and drive them in the other direction because they could not access the bus program, amongst other things. So we know that regional Victoria is really disadvantaged from a transport perspective and that we could desperately improve that. I would actually say that up in Northern Metropolitan, my region, in the newer suburbs, expanding the school bus program up there would actually have some great advantages to people who are also very disadvantaged because of a lack of public transport up there.
The government’s response to recommendation 11 from the committee back in 2017 was that they supported in principle the notion of better utilising the school bus program. In fact they said that they would consider these:
… in the context of the forthcoming re-negotiation of the School Bus Program contracts—
that were expiring on 31 December 2019.
When Mr Barton very kindly provided us with a briefing and Dr Lowe and the Professor Stanleys provided really excellent information about the system to us, I asked Dr Lowe what had happened in those negotiations, and he said, ‘Nothing’. They had actually just negotiated nothing. They had not tried to expand the program.
In 2016 there was actually a trial of this program—and I am yet to be able to find out what happened—where the government actually said, ‘We will trial, allowing a range of other people to use the bus for employment purposes’. Currently apprentices can use it in some areas and other non-school students or students who are not going to those schools can use it, but they are rare and far between. I hope that this inquiry further explores this and further advocates for this. All of us who are on various committees know that they are usually very good ways of really extrapolating information and getting the views of the community. I commend all of the committee staff that help support the committees of this house because they do a lot of work but they have also been able to connect with constituents and connect with the general public. They are a really great interface with the Parliament, the committees, where we see the general public getting involved in the committee inquiries and committee processes.
I have no doubt there will be significant interest in this inquiry from those regional areas. I think the inquiry will be chaired by Mr Erdogan. I heard his comments on this. He sounds like he is enthusiastic about this inquiry—anything we can do to assist in improving transport in regional areas, also reducing the need for them to constantly be in cars on some of the roads that are some of the more dangerous in Victoria. Thank you, Mr Barton, for bringing this to the chamber, and I look forward to hearing of the progress of this inquiry.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Mr Barton’s reference 2/9/20
That this house requires the Economy and Infrastructure Committee to inquire into, consider and report, by no later than November 2021, on extending school buses for use by the wider public to enhance the mobility of regional and rural Victorians, including, but not limited to:
(1) an independent analysis of the transport disadvantages experienced by regional and rural Victorians, specifically youth, the elderly and low-income households;
(2) investigating the potential social and community impacts of improving mobility options by widening the mainstream school bus system and an analysis of the examples and trials from other jurisdictions both locally and overseas;
(3) investigating technology and systems that would be effective in ensuring child safety on mainstream school buses;
(4) identifying any existing or potential barriers to allowing public access to the mainstream school bus network;
(5) identifying the spare capacity of existing assets in the school bus program and how that might be used to enhance public transport options in regional and rural Victoria; and
(6) investigating the costs of extending mainstream school buses to the general public and how a fare system would function.