Though the MTC buses are not designed specifically to accommodate school students unlike private school vans, they do not have broader facilities such as a footboard of a height of less than a feet.
During the strike called by the Tamil Nadu Nursery, Primary, Matriculation and Higher Secondary Schools Association on November 19, R. Shankar took permission from his office to drop and pick up his two children from school.
“Either someone from home picks up my children from school, or they go by school van,” he said, ruling out any possibility of sending his children by public buses, citing safety as his primary concern. But, few have the luxury of choice.
The Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles (Regulation and Control of School Buses) Special Rules 2012, prescribes stringent safety measures for school vans of private schools. However, the question of safety of MTC buses for schoolchildren, in which a sizeable number of students, studying mostly in government, government-aided and matriculation schools commute to school, remains.
Other than handling the anxiety and expectations surrounding the impending class X board examination, S. Chandralekha has to handle the weight of her school bag and the fatigue from travelling in an extremely crowded bus from Perungalathur to her school in Arumbakkam.
“I leave home at 6.30 a.m. and reach home only at 8 p.m.,” she said. Students complain of overcrowded buses and jerky braking, but observe that, though harrowing, it is often the only way to reach their schools if their neighbourhood is not connected by rail.
A headmaster of a Chennai Corporation-run school said it was common for students to come late to school in the morning, and attribute it to missing a crowded bus.
Though the MTC buses are not designed specifically to accommodate school students unlike private school vans, they do not have broader facilities such as a footboard of a height of less than a feet, 150cm x 120cm emergency exits, and an entrance door which can be closed and opened easily, mentioned in the special rules for school buses, for instance.
Addressing the issue, a transport official said that the special rules for school buses were formulated, primarily keeping in mind the safety of children under 12 years of age. “The issue of safety crops up only for children below the age of 12 who travel by MTC buses to schools.”
Twelve-year old M. Keerthana who studies in class VII and has been going by buses from Thiruverkadu to her school for the past two years said, “Sometimes the bus gets so crowded that I feel suffocated,” she said. “I cannot reach the handle on the top, and when it is crowded, you don’t get to hold the railing as well,” she said.
N. Nandhini, another student said that, though there are several students who travel by footboard for cheap thrills, there are several who are forced to board an overcrowded bus, as the frequency of many buses is low.