Media release

School students in large numbers adapting to public transport in challenging circumstances

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Many Dunedin school students are using the Orbus public transport buses for the first time after the closure of Otago Road Services last year created gaps in access to schools.

After The Otago Regional Council stepped in to help, and with newly-extended Orbus services running at or near capacity last week, further fine-tuning with schools and operators will occur in coming weeks.

“Last week was an important one for ORC, our bus operators, and for students and parents using the public transport network to get to school for the first time,” ORC General Manager Operations Gavin Palmer said.

“We are seeing high uptake of the extra services, particularly the 40C servicing King’s and Queen’s High Schools.  The network and changes ran as well as could be expected in very challenging circumstances given patronage levels rose sharply, and we did not know initially how many students would take up these services.

“We appreciate this is a big issue for kids and families, with many needing to allow more time to make transfers to other buses to get to school.  And we’re grateful to students and parents for coming in to the ORC  to get Bee Cards to access cheaper public transport, and for their patience while catching often full buses, or needing to wait for other buses.

“Everybody - from parents, operators, to drivers and ORC staff – are doing their best to try and make this work. As stated previously, these service extensions are not designed to replace the designated school bus services, and further solutions will be needed among operators and schools.”

ORC Councillors voted in December to make “minor changes” to address school connectivity issues arising from the cessation of Otago Road Services’ commercial operations.

“We have had staff on-site at Green Island, which is the main transfer point for the extended services that we’ve put on to get kids to school, keeping an eye on patronage and making sure we proactively address any issues that we see.

“We’re exploring the possibility of duplicate services with our operators, and other ways that schools might be able to collect students when buses become too full. One of the difficulties is that the number of buses and drivers available is currently limited, and there are contractual complications that mean we can’t throw extra buses on at short notice,” Dr Palmer said.

“We are wary of the impacts that Omicron could have on this situation as well, which is why we’re exploring a range of options to address capacity concerns.”

Dr Palmer reassured students and parents that standing on the bus was allowable under current Government transport regulations, and met national safety guidelines for public transport.

“The buses are designed to safely allow people to stand if all the seats are full. Each bus has a capacity limit that takes this into account, and bus drivers keep a close eye on the number of people standing in the aisle. We understand it’s not ideal or always comfortable, but it is within regulated limits.

“I also understand parents’ anxiety about social distancing. However, there is currently no Government requirement to socially distance on the bus, which is also why it’s so important to scan on with the COVID Tracer app and wear a mask on the bus.”

ORC is encouraging students and parents to follow Orbus Dunedin on Facebook for the most up to date information about bus services.

For more information visit our Orbus School buses webpage.