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Free bus passes `are not the solution' at all

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TRAVELLING AID: Free bus passes being issued for students at a city school on Tuesday. File Photo
TRAVELLING AID: Free bus passes being issued for students at a city school on Tuesday. File Photo

Sandhya Soman

Number of commuters on the rise, but bus services are just not enough 2.15 lakh passes issued this year as against 2.28 lakh in 2005

  • Passes issued this year: 2.15 lakh (up to class XII)
  • Number of passes last year: 2.28 lakh
  • More applicants this year

    CHENNAI: Priyanka, 12, can hardly pay attention to her teacher as classes begin. And by the time she recovers from the ordeal of being pushed around in a crowded Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus, the morning lessons are almost over for this Class VII student.

    A free bus pass has neither increased Priyanka's productivity nor ensured her safe travel from Velachery to her school in T. Nagar. Though she eventually gets her energy back, there have been times when she is shoved around so much that she has fallen down inside the bus during her journey to school.

    "Earlier I used to take the 7.30 a.m. bus. But now even the 7 a.m. buses are crowded," she says.

    What this essentially means is that while the number of commuters, who include a good number of students, continues to rise, the number of buses, especially those catering for school students, is way below par: another reason that makes roads unsafe for children.

    The MTC has so far received 2.35 lakh applications this academic year for free bus passes, says Managing Director R. Balasubramanian.

    Officials say they will finish issuing passes by month-end. But they do not know how to handle the crowd. "There have been nearly 7,700 more applications than last year after the Government made it clear that they would not allow overcrowded maxicabs," says Mr. Balasubramanian.

    But how does one accommodate the increase in numbers?

    "There is no use increasing the number of buses after 8.30 a.m. But if schools start before 7.30 a.m., we will be able to transport children comfortably as our morning services are running empty," he says. Officials say they will have more flexibility in introducing stops near schools or run special services.

    According to A. N. Sachithanandan, council member of the Institute of Town Planners, staggering of school timings is only one step in the process of ensuring safety on roads, particularly for those using public transport. It will be useful if school zones are properly defined, he says. "Children from Anna Nagar should not be sent to schools in Virugambakkam or K. K Nagar. If they can walk up to schools in the neighbourhood, then there would be no need for free bus passes."

    In the initial stages, defining of school zones need not be that strict, he says. "A small percentage of children from outside the zone may be allowed till good institutions come up in other parts of the city as well," he explains.

    However, walking to schools remains a problem with no defined pedestrian pathways in place for children already burdened with heavy bags.

    "What we need to do is to look at the education system in a holistic manner. The problem is not just about schools or traffic congestion but whether or not we want to improve our living conditions. We can start with implementing school zones and staggered timings or shift systems in schools. We also need to cut down on the books carried by taking a good look at the curriculum," adds Mr. Sachithanandan.

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