Crammed vehicles raise pupil safety fears

PRESSURE: Overcrowded buses at Callaghan Campus Wallsend are causing problems, especially for younger students.  Picture: Brock Perks
PRESSURE: Overcrowded buses at Callaghan Campus Wallsend are causing problems, especially for younger students. Picture: Brock Perks

PARENTS of Callaghan College Wallsend students who have been squashed onto school buses say the crammed vehicles were ‘‘an accident waiting to happen’’.

Peta Richards said her daughter Emmer, 11, and her daughter’s best friend Maddy, 12, felt unsafe boarding the Hunter Valley Buses going  to Maryland. It is understood that students were asked to sit three to a seat, stand in the aisles and  often  couldn’t get through the throng to alight at their correct stop.

‘‘I’d hate to see what would happen if there was an accident with that many kids packed onto the bus,’’ Ms Richards said.

‘‘We need an overflow bus – and we needed one more than a week ago.’’

Hunter Valley Buses originally refused them and a group of 40 other students entry to the crowded bus on their second and third days of high school. On the second day, the school office directed the girls to a public bus stop near a pub on a parallel street to catch a route open to the public, but they were again refused entry because it was too crowded with students from other schools.

The girls decided to walk the more-than-five-kilometre route, until another parent picked them up and dropped them at their destination.

On their third day waiting at the public stop, the girls had two Hunter Valley Buses on public routes drive past them without stopping, meaning Maddy’s father had to leave his workplace to pick up the pair.

Ms Richards said she understood the school had received many calls about the inadequate number of buses, which she was told was a problem that happened at the start of every school year before bus passes were delivered.

It is understood many of the school’s students unable to get on the bus were forced to walk home or call their parents after being left stranded in the surrounding streets.

Maddy’s mother Michelle Miller said she felt the bus company had ‘‘failed in their duty of care’’.

She said Hunter Valley Buses had also suggested the students walk to the public bus stop.

It advised her more than a week ago that it would investigate enlisting a temporary overflow bus until all bus passes were delivered.

It told her this week it would deploy the additional bus on Friday afternoon when the students have the option of leaving early, but it is unclear whether the bus will also be deployed on other school days and whether it will be a permanent measure.

A Hunter Valley Buses spokesperson said it  became aware of the issue last week and responded by contacting the school and placing an inspector at the school bus stop.

‘‘If the 149 service does get full, there are another three buses following at about 10-minute intervals,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘These arrive slightly later because Callaghan College finishes earlier than other schools but Hunter Valley Buses runs an integrated timetable which also services other schools.

 ‘‘Hunter Valley Buses takes safety seriously and drivers will not allow a bus to become overcrowded.

‘‘However, drivers are connected by radio to our depot and if they report a need for further capacity to pick up school students, additional buses can be dispatched.’’

The spokesperson said the company was  confident   communication with the school and deploying the inspector had solved  the problem.

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