Two out of three school buses lack seatbelts

ONLY a third of school buses in the south-west are fitted with seatbelts.

Despite Public Transport Victoria (PTV) reimbursing bus operators for the cost of installing school buses with seatbelts, only 33 per cent of dedicated free school bus services in the region have them fitted. 

The data comes as the state government announced a program which would see seven buses in the south-west upgraded and fitted with seatbelts.

Premier Denis Napthine said the rollout would remove 100 older school buses without seatbelts annually and replace them with modern and safer vehicles.

Macarthur will be the first to benefit with a new seatbelted bus on order, while a second is due to be ordered for Warrnambool later this year. Dr Napthine said PTV would replace 90 dedicated free school buses each year and retro-fit 10 existing buses with seatbelts annually at no cost to the operator.

“The new blitz on seatbelts on school buses is in addition to 54 replacement school buses that have been ordered since 2013,” Dr Napthine said.

It’s expected the program would equip 70 per cent of school buses across the state with seatbelts within the next five years — up from 43 per cent.

Last week The Standard reported that delays in a state government program to rollout seatbelts on school buses had angered south-west safety campaigners.

Nullawarre mother Sue Blake described the tenuous process adopted by PTV as disappointing.

“It seems we are waiting for further consultations and reports, whilst our children continue to travel at high speed on unsafe, unseatbelted buses,” Mrs Blake said

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder announced a plan to improve bus safety in July last year, requiring both new and replacement dedicated school buses to be fitted with seatbelts. 

In a statement, Mr Mulder said the rollout would happen after proper consultation with the bus industry.

Operators who choose to have seatbelts installed have been reimbursed by PTV within the school bus replacement ceiling price.

Mr Mulder said the school bus fleet review identified 581 dedicated free school buses in regional and rural Victoria already had seatbelts fitted. “All requests for replacement of school buses have to be approved by PTV,” he said. 

“Where these buses are dedicated to the free school bus program, the approval will only be given with the proviso that seatbelts be fitted.” 

Mr Mulder said 33 per cent of dedicated free school bus services in the south-west were fitted with seatbelts. 

Popes Consolidated Buslines began installing seatbelts on its fleet in the late 1990s.

Operations manager David Pope said they also retro-fitted some coaches at the time and since then every new vehicle has been fitted with seatbelts.

“The rationale to put in seatbelts is pretty simple,” he said.

“We’re a family-run business. All our families have used the buses. If we aren’t confident to let our family use the buses, why would anyone else be?”

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