by Amber Hooker
BARELY a teenager and about to lose her virginity, a Year 8 student jumped on the bus and told the driver she was going to have sex for the first time.
Young's Bus Service owner Phil Young was shocked, ill-equipped to deal with the growing spate of social problems children are bringing on board public transport.
"What makes a girl come to a total stranger, and say she is going to have sex for the first time and 'what do you think about it?'," the Rockhampton businessman asked of the recent incident.
"I said 'you shouldn't, and go home to your parents and talk about it'.
"This student did not know me from a bar of soap, I was stunned, I thought I had been set up and I was worried.
"That one still rocked me a bit because of the circumstances and the age of the girl."
Mr Young tells of young boy, only eight years old, who raced across four lanes of traffic, hailed the driver and told him his mother was "jacking up".
It comes as bullying, violence, drug use and sex talk are becoming the norm as drivers cart our region's school children from troubled homes, to school and back.
"Parents would cringe with what the children would come out and tell you," Mr Young said.
In the business for decades, Mr Young said anecdotal evidence reveals primary school children are more deeply affected than older students.
He shared the untold story he and his staff face daily after The Morning Bulletin reported children were involved with drugs as early as Year 3, and Prep-aged children had drawn weapons at school.
This is evidenced in Department of Education data, which Mr Young said accurately reflects the situation faced when transporting children from troubled homes to school and back.
Young's fleet of 38 buses travel about 1.7 million kilometres each year between Mount Morgan, the Rockhampton region and Capricorn Coast.
Mr Young said while his drivers' priority was to provide safe transport, they were struggling to cope with the extra baggage.
He said while buses had proven to be the "safest form of travel", drivers were increasingly faced with challenges outside their regular duties.
Mr Young said suspensions, misconduct and "fraud fare evasion" also created a difficult situation for bus drivers, who are bound by a "no child gets left behind" principle - noting it was not a "policy".
He explained bus drivers are obliged to follow a code of conduct, and this often resulted in abuse from both parents and students.
He noted it is an offence to travel on public transport without paying a fare, and was a breach of the code of conduct for school students travelling on buses.
Their only recourse though is to send letters home, which Mr Young said is often ineffective, and he frequently results in parents calling with claims their child has been "mistreated".
"If a child has accidentally forgotten their bus pass or has insufficient funds we'll always let them on but if this behaviour repeats, we have no choice but to file a misconduct incident," he said.
"We have found most of the times the child is not at fault but their parents fail to take responsibility for filing out the necessary paperwork or giving the child money.
"Some parents don't dig deep enough, they get on the phone and give you a serve, and it's not true what the kids are telling their parents."
There was a total of 73,416 suspensions from Prep to Year 12 across Central Queensland last year.
Mr Young said there was a growing problem where parents leave young children by the side of the road to be picked up, even when they are excluded from school.
"The driver will pick them up, but we take them to school and follow the usual process to try and contact the parents or the school, and say 'you have to pick your kid up, he has been suspended'," he said.
"It gets tricky, because of your duty of care, and you can't drive past those kids that have been suspended, but it's very difficult... the onus comes directly back on the driver."
All of this, compacted by children repeatedly catching the bus without paying, has Mr Young with a myriad of problems and desperate for answers.
He believes much of the onus comes back on the parents, some of whom are responsive, others "couldn't care less".
"Nowadays these kids have a lot of pressure placed on them," he said.
"The good times are gone, the kids this day and age are more life aware, through education.
"We notice every year go by there's something different in the behaviour we strike and go, 'how do we handle this?'.
"We are a bus operator, we are not equipped to handle this sort of stuff we are faced with," he said.
"There are other areas where these families can get the help for these kids, we don't have that skill level in that area.
"Our profession is driving buses and trying to keep people safe, but not all the other issues."
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