Government should run special buses for students: experts
The bell rings and children rush to the many mini-vans and cabs lined outside their school campus. Within minutes, the traffic on the roads gets aggravated with cars honking behind, waiting to move ahead.
With the ongoing Metro Rail work and traffic diversions in several localities, it is time for schools to have a closer look at the mode of transport available to students in the coming academic year. In Chennai, many parents engage autorickshaws and mini-vans for their children, and several schools are also outsourcing their services to private players.
School heads say it is not feasible for them to have a full-fledged bus service. “Two years ago we had school-owned buses, but it was difficult to maintain them. Now we have hired three buses and a 32-seater vehicle from a company that will take care of transporting the children,” says V.P. Dennison, Correspondent, Infant Matriculation School, Kalpakkam. “If we do not provide bus services, our school strength will reduce from 1,200 to 500 students.” Salvation Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Ambattur, also stopped their school bus service completely, because it was not affordable.
Meanwhile, increasingly, parents too are on the look-out for personalised services such as autorickshaws and mini-vans which they feel would be more flexible than services arranged by the school.
“Initially we enquired about the school bus. But it is not a great option, since our daughter would have had to begin her day an hour earlier. Whereas, a private service comes to our doorstep,” says parent Neha Prakash Rohra.
While parents may prefer other modes of transport for various reasons, convenience and affordability should not be privileged over safety, say experts. “It is quite expensive for most schools to have their own buses. Even if parents and schools engage private players, it is important that they ensure these vehicles are fit for carrying children.
Having safety audits and hiring a conductor is needed even for private vehicles,” says Usha Seshasayee of Suraksha Road Safety Society, an NGO working in the area of road safety and transportation issues.
“The government should run special buses for students so that children of various schools can have a common and affordable mode of transport,” she says.
In an effort to increase road safety of students, the State Government prescribed a set of rules for vehicles transporting students. Following a Government Order issued to that effect two years ago, educational institutions were asked to adhere to a set of norms.
From a minimum of 10 years' experience for the bus driver, to a uniform colour code for vehicle and stringent rules in regard to the number of children to be transported in a particular vehicle, several measures were introduced.
Also, the tax rates were increased from Rs. 2,000 per bus per year to Rs. 50 per seat per quarter for school buses. Similarly the insurance charge was also increased. School heads said some of these rules made them stop their own services, but unless institutions chalk out safe alternatives in consultation with the parents, school transportation and road safety will remain challenges.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act requires that children be admitted to neighbourhood schools, so the issue of transportation of children is expected to be less of a hassle. But with traffic around school zones only growing every new academic year, institutions and parents have to work out feasible and safe transport arrangements for students.