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No such thing as a free ride


No such thing as a free ride

Jane Stephens is pleased at a move towards uniformed network officers, who are now keeping some young bus passengers in check.

The free ride two generations of children have been afforded is rightly coming to a grinding halt. Sunshine Coast kids are regularly riding buses for free, courtesy of the no-child-left-behind policy which dictates bus drivers must allow children on board to ensure their safety, even if they do not have money for a fare.

It is based on a principle introduced in response to the murder of Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe, who was abducted in 2003 after a bus did not stop for him. I understand the logic of bringing in the policy: it was birthed for a society shaken and horrified. We needed to be re-assured that what happened to Daniel would not happen again. But that was 20 years ago.

The kids who walk on with their bottom lips jutted out, eyeballing the driver and declaring they are not paying today are unlikely to know the reason they get something for nothing. It rankles me most because they are so often very rude about it – sweary, sneery, verging on feral.

And I don’t mean this as a one-off experience: in the afternoons, in particular, if you have the ‘pleasure’ of needing a bus around school bell time, more than half the junior passengers do not tap on. Of course, many kids brandish a Go Card and pay for their trip. Some even greet or thank the driver. But there are so many who do not.

Imagine my delight to discover the presence of uniformed, authoritative network officers aboard some buses recently. They checked Go Cards, asked one teen girl to take her feet off the seat and told children that in the normal course of things, they should be paying their way.

One boy seemed surprised, saying he was only 13 and that kids rode for free. The burly bloke in the uniform said everyone over four years should ordinarily buy a ticket. He took the boy’s name and gave him a warning. It is a start, but an awareness campaign of the rules is desperately needed on buses and in bus shelters, reminding all that no-child-left-behind is a policy in place for exceptional circumstances.

It should not be applied to the commute to and from school or to Sunshine Plaza to hang out with their mates. And it should never apply to those who might be young but are also breathtakingly entitled and surly.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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