In excess of 250 school students nationally are expected to be impacted by news this week that Greyhound Australia is discontinuing its unaccompanied minor service.
The announcement, sent individually to families, has come as a shock to many, according to both the executive director of the Australian Boarding Schools Association, Richard Stokes, and the federal Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association president, Wendy Hick.
Mr Stokes said the effect of the change, to be put in place from September 3, would be “quite dramatic”, especially for families in Queensland.
It may even mean that families are forced to withdraw children from school, according to Ms Hick, who said ICPA had already heard from one family contemplating that.
“Airfares are too dear for them, and now they won’t be able to afford to drive down and back a number of times a year to take their children to and from school,” she said. “Others might only be four hours away from school but are having to feed drought-affected animals.”
While she believed that schools were already looking for solutions, she said it was putting a lot of additional work back on schools to manage.
Greyhound’s lack of consultation prior to announcing the change was condemned by Mr Stokes, who said no real reason had been given for the removal of the offer.
“We would love it if the people who make these decisions could talk to us,” he said.
“If we’d been involved in the decision-making process, we could have offered possible solutions to their problem and worked together.
“Blanket changes like this are not a good thing.”
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In its advice to users, Greyhound Australia said they realised families around Australia relied on their service and so they had not made the decision lightly.
“Safety of our passengers is the foundation upon which our company was built and continues to be the cornerstone of our services,” it continued.
“There have been a number of incidents recently by which people have not complied with our safety requirements of unaccompanied children using our services, which has lead us to making this decision.
“In these circumstances, it is Greyhound Australia’s policy that we do not leave the child at their departure point unattended, instead we take them to the nearest police station.
“Whilst this ensures the safety of the child it then has an impact on all other passengers travelling on the service, causing delays and time added to their travel.”
For a child under the age of 15 to travel on any Greyhound service from September 3, they must be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or chaperone.
Rockhampton Grammar School’s director of boarding, Stewart Norford, said it looked like 1 per cent of the population had ruined a good arrangement for all.
“There were very reasonable unaccompanied minor requirements – forms to fill in and appropriate people with identification to put children on and take them off,” he said. “But some people have put Greyhound in a situation where the driver was damned.”
He said it would have been an impossible situation for drivers faced with a dilemma of finding a someone in the police force to leave a child with in a country town in the middle of the night.
“Rockhampton Grammar is in complete agreement with any policy that assists the welfare of children, but we understand that it’s problematic for families and we’re not happy about that,” he said.
While the school has operated its own bus service delivering and collecting students to Monto, Alpha and Clermont at the beginning and end of each term, Mr Norford said other students north to Mackay were impacted by the change, as were students on the Emerald service on conventional school weekends.
He said it seemed likely the school would adjust its booking arrangements, liaising with other schools in the region, to ensure minors were travelling with someone who was 15 or older, but even that put a lot of responsibility on that person.
Ms Hicks said ICPA would be raising awareness of the issue, and she expected one possible outcome of the change would be that other bus companies could express interest in the routes affected.
“This is just one more thing for parents to worry about,” she said.