Children with disabilities could soon be catching Uber to school under a radical proposal that would unwind the specialist school bus system in Victoria and Tasmania under the guise of a more “efficient” market, leaked documents show.
The $600,000 trial — being workshopped by the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Market Design, with the support of the federal and Victorian treasuries — will try to develop a “smart market” to replace a “one size fits all” bus system. That system has been a part of the Victorian and Tasmanian landscape for decades and includes a driver and a supervisor for the students on board.
An outline of the plan, obtained by The Australian, reveals the university will have a lab test of the new market ready by the end of the year with live pilots planned next year, in which families would go online to specify their user requirements.
Companies, in return, would bid for those accounts after nominating the bare minimum they would need to be paid to remain viable.
“In addition to the existing bus companies, there is potential to involve community transport providers, non-emergency medical transport, taxis and share-ride or carpooling options in the smart market for student transport,” the Melbourne University brief says.
The paper argues that the current bus system — which has a unionised workforce — does not allow choice and control for families and their children.
“Market failures will mean that stronger government intervention is required to facilitate the best value-for-money outcomes for NDIS recipients,” it says. “In some cases, including in student transportation, government intervention will take the form of market designer as an efficient private market does not exist and will not emerge over time.
“The role of government in these cases is to create the market architecture and specific regulatory conditions in which decentralised parties are able to transact efficiently and with confidence.”
The Victorian government spent $70 million to transport more than 8000 students with disabilities to special schools last year. The decision to include school transport under the NDIS was agreed on between all states and the then federal Labor government just 10 weeks before the first trials were to begin in 2013.
Although the Productivity Commission says it costed these elements as part of participants’ plans, it remains vague on details.
Hawthorn East mother Kerry Moore has been using the bus service for well over a decade and her 14-year-old Oliver, who has Fragile X syndrome and difficulty communicating, has become used to the routine.
“These are very vulnerable children, some who can’t communicate and some who are very sick, and they need supervision by trained professionals not by any old cab driver,” she said. “They … are just trying to get to their special schools, not teenagers catching an Uber to get to the movies.”
Bus Association Victoria executive director Chris Lowe said the plan is a “nonsense” idea.
“In our view, it is fantastically irresponsible of the agency to give CMD hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and create a market for the carriage of children with a disability to and from their special school in a way other than the special school bus,” Dr Lowe said.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian government said: “We will continue to advocate on behalf of Victorians with disabilities and await the outcome of the National Disability Insurance Agency’s trial and model for future disability transport services.”