The striking drivers of school vans and autorickshaws made an emphatic statement by staying off the roads on Wednesday. It was tough to say who had the worst day: parents, students or the traffic police.
Unlike other strikes involving autorickshaw, truck or bus drivers, Wednesday’s strike meant that there were more vehicles on the road. For every 20-seater school van missing from the road, there were at least a dozen cars taking their place in schools such as Bishop Cotton Boys’ and Sacred Heart High School on Residency Road. In schools such as St. Anne’s Convent on Miller’s Road, where students are mostly from working class backgrounds, hundreds of parents turned up on motorcycles to drop and pick up their children.
The ripple effect of these extra vehicles could be felt for miles around the school zones.
The entire Richmond Circle flyover near Bishop Cotton Boys’ was clogged with parents’ vehicles for two hours in the morning and over an hour after the school bell went off. “At least 20 per cent of students were late,” said Parveen Nayeem a teacher at Cotton Boys’. The school, for a change, went easy on the latecomers.
A teacher at St. Anne’s said that around 500 to 600 of the 3,000 students stayed away. At Sacred Heart, most students were at least 45 minutes late, said a parent. At Prasiddhi School in Vasantnagar, students and parents complained they were not aware of the strike. Many waited for a long time and made alternative arrangements when they finally realised that nobody was coming to pick up the children.
At Bishop Cotton Girls’, many parents opted to carpool. The traffic situation outside this school was marginally better as there is facility for parents to enter the institution instead of waiting on the road outside.
Several parents also criticised school managements for not having enough buses of their own. “The school bus doesn’t come to the doorstep or to far away areas, forcing us to rely on private transporters,” said a parent.
Plenty of flak was reserved for private vans and autorickshaws. “They hiked their rates by half just last week and now they’re going strike,” said an annoyed Rupa Kishore whose child studies at Bishop Cotton Boys’.
S.S. Lavanya, a Class 9 student of St. Anne’s, said walking home to Shivajinagar was out of the question as her schoolbag was way too heavy.
The traffic police too were a harried lot. Their deployment outside all major schools in the city was doubled, said a police source. But the extra manpower could hardly save the day and they were seen having animated arguments with parents and other motorists outside schools.
Perhaps, the only smiling faces belonged to street vendors. Kachoris, chaats, fruits, popsicles, corncobs and peanuts flew off the carts as hungry students dug into the food as they waited for their parents to turn up.