INDEPENDENT NEWS

Assistance for Rural Bus Drivers

Published: Fri 17 Aug 2001 04:51 PM
17 August 2001 Media Statement
Assistance for Rural Bus Drivers
Transport Minister Mark Gosche and Associate Education Minister Marian Hobbs today announced changes to the driver licensing system which will provide financial support to some school bus drivers.
“This Government recognises that many bus drivers, especially in rural areas, do not drive for reward,” said Mr Gosche.
“Rather, they are driving a school bus as a community service and many of them cannot afford to maintain their passenger licence endorsement.”
At present all bus drivers pay their share of the costs to have a passenger licence endorsement. This system is based on the risk of carrying passengers rather than the amount of time spent driving and means that the cost and the prices are the same, regardless of how often someone drives a bus.
Ms Hobbs said the Government intends to provide a Crown contribution to recognise the work of many school bus drivers who work for the community and often for only a few hours each month.
“Many of these drivers, particularly those in rural areas, work part time yet under the present system they must bear full licensing costs.
“Assistance will be provided to these drivers via the Ministry of Education which will spread a subsidy among schools and operators who will then pass the subsidy onto individual drivers. The assistance will be for all those school bus routes where no public passenger services are available, most of which are in rural areas."
The assistance will be approximately $65-70 per route per year. The maximum a school bus driver could receive is about $70 a year. This is the equivalent of the proposed fee to renew a one year P endorsement. Bus contractors will be encouraged to focus the assistance on those drivers who are renewing their licence, or seeking a licence for the first time.
The Ministry of Education and the Bus and Coach Association are still finalising the details of the subsidy allocation process.
ENDS
Commercial Drivers, including School Bus Drivers – Backgrounder
Current Situation
Drivers wanting to be licensed to carry paying passengers currently pay $185.50 to get a new Passenger ‘P’ driver licence endorsement valid for five years. They must also pay a vetting fee of $28.20 (either annually for taxi drivers or every five years for bus drivers). To renew a P endorsement for five years costs $180 plus the vetting fees. Other fees apply if they have other endorsements.
What will change?
The fee for a new ‘P’ endorsement is likely to rise to approximately $272.75 (plus vetting fees) and a five yearly renewal will cost $256.90 plus vetting fees. These increases reflect the fact that current charges are not meeting the actual costs involved.
However the Government recognises that school bus drivers are deserving of special assistance. We will therefore provide a Crown contribution to Vote Education, to assist school bus drivers meet the costs of a ‘P’ endorsement.
A total of $0.16 million will be made available for this purpose, to be distributed to drivers by school bus contractors. This assistance will be for approximately 2500 routes where no public passenger service is available. Nearly all of these are in rural areas.
The assistance will be approximately $65-70 per route per year. The maximum a school bus driver could receive is about $70 a year. This is the equivalent of the new proposed fee to renew a one-year P endorsement. Bus contractors will be encouraged to focus the assistance on those drivers who are renewing their licence, or seeking a licence for the first time.
The Ministry of Education is still finalising details of the allocation of the subsidy with the Bus and Coach Association.
Why the change?
Most school bus drivers are only part-time, usually only driving for a few hours a month, or on stand-by to drive as required.
The Bus and Coach Association advise that there are approximately 2380 school bus drivers, of which only 550 are full time.
School bus drivers' income is therefore often very small. For them to pay the same license fees as full time drivers is particularly onerous.
As well, there is a shortage of rural school bus drivers, and the Government is keen to do what it can to alleviate that problem. Some school bus drivers were understood to be leaving the industry because of the licence fees.
What more is to come?
The Driver Licensing Review recommended changes to the licensing regime to reduce compliance costs for professional drivers. The government will look at these proposals in the coming months and consult on specific initiatives, such as reducing the wait period for drivers aged 25 or over to get their heavy vehicle licence.
Another proposal the government is considering further is to change the weight limits of the various classes of vehicles to better fit commercial practice and vehicle handling characteristics.
We are also aware that some drivers have to wait for a long time for the ‘Fit and Proper Person’ check to be completed, before they can begin work. The LTSA will speed up this process and encourages people to come into an LTSA regional office to discuss their individual situation before they begin driver training.

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