Douglas’ major bus company notices drop in school passenger numbers


David Gardiner


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FNQ Bus Lines has noticed a drop in school-age passenger numbers. Picture: Supplied

In a sign that families are moving away from or to other areas within Douglas Shire due to changing economic and job circumstances, the region’s locally based major transport company says the number of school children on its daily services is dropping.

FNQ Bus Lines – which regards its school transport contracts as its ‘bread and butter’ work – said it has noticed school age passenger numbers dropping especially since the closure of Mossman Mill – an indicator that families have had to move elsewhere to find other work.

The company’s runs several school services within Douglas, Cook Shire and a growing service to the relatively new Newman Catholic College at Smithfield in Cairns.

“We’ve seen a drop of numbers of kids getting on buses,” the company’s operations manager Mark Johnson said, adding that they now operate one school bus north of the Daintree River instead of two previously.

“We recently had to surrender the Cow Bay service – not enough kids – it went to one kid, so now that’s combined in with our Noah’s Creek service,” Mr Johnson told Newsport.

Four school children were expected to be needing transport from the north Daintree to Mossman High in 2025 but Mr Johnston said even that might dwindle by the time FNQ Bus Lines finalises numbers at the end of this year.


“It is an interesting coincidence that the number of kids has dropped and the Mill has closed,” he said, also pointing out that the Mill closure is probably not the only factor causing families to move to different areas.

“Tourism is also down. It may not affect me directly in the tourists (numbers) but if the parents haven’t got a job, then they’re not going to stay here – they move on and the kids go with them.”

What also keeps larger operations such as FNQ Bus Lines in the game is not only the ongoing school transport runs, but also when large events are held in Douglas such as business and franchising conferences at the bigger resorts – which can bring hundreds of people to the area at a time.

“Tonight I think we’ve got four buses going out for them, and then next week the same and the week after the same,” he said.

“When Telstra drops into town that’s like 400-500 people.

“I’m the only one that can do it. They’ll come up and stay at the Sheraton, it might be a dealership event, or for franchisees, something like that.”

Post-COVID challenges

From a transport company’s point of view, Mr Johnston said the Douglas region has been “very quiet” since the COVID pandemic, and hasn’t recovered.

“When the large groups are in town it’s fine, but it’s a long time between drinks. If we were just a charter company, we would have gone broke.”

“We’re only just starting to get staffing levels back to what we had.

“Prior to COVID, I’d have people knocking on the door looking for a job. It hasn’t been like that since.”


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