School buses becoming a thing of the past?

Laden with danger: Autorickshaws have become the default choice for transportation of school students. A scene at the Doveton junction in Purasawalkam.

Laden with danger: Autorickshaws have become the default choice for transportation of school students. A scene at the Doveton junction in Purasawalkam.  

Karthik Subramanian

Overcrowded autorickshaws, vans and cyclerickshaws are a common sight during rush hour

CHENNAI: The safety issues notwithstanding, autorickshaws and cycle rickshaws continue to be the default mode of transport for a majority of schoolchildren in the city. The school bus is fast fading to become a thing of the past.

The situation proves to be a double blow for parents: apart from their anxiety about the safety of their wards, they also end up spending substantial amounts towards transportation. Some autorickshaw drivers charge upto Rs.1,000 a month for school trips. In several cases, the expenditure on transport count exceeds the tuition fees.

There are over 800 schools in Chennai and its suburbs, with a school student population of approximately 10 lakh. According to statistics provided by the Regional Transport Authority, there are only 899 vehicles registered officially by schools. These include an array of vehicles from buses to mini-vans. Many schools do not operate any buses.

Though the National Urban Transport Policy and other important policy documents call for popularising mass transport, heads of various schools in the city said there were compelling reasons for not plying their own buses.

One of the major complaints has been about the steep motor vehicle tax for vehicles — an issue that has been addressed by the Government recently. The State Government had effected a cut in the motor vehicle tax for transport vehicles owned by educational institutions, bring it down to Rs.50 per seat per quarter from Rs.150 fixed by the previous Government. A gazette notification published on May 23 said the amendment to the Motor Vehicles Taxation Act came into retrospective effect from April 1 this year.

Tamil Nadu Nursery, Primary and Higher Secondary School Managements Association convener Christudoss Gandhi said the primary reason for several schools backing out from operating buses was an order in 2003 in which the previous Government announced a 15-fold increase in motor vehicle tax for vehicles owned by educational institutions.


He said the cut in tax was welcome but more needed to be done. “The buses make only limited trips and ply only for around 220 days a year. So it can never be a profitable venture for schools,” he pointed out.

A senior representative of a transport company said the State Government should play a proactive role by bringing together heads of schools, bus manufacturers and financial institutions to work out the solutions. He suggested that subsidies were not a bad option, considering the safety of the students.

B. Purushotaman, correspondent of Everwin Matriculation School in Kolathur, which operates six buses, said school buses were important not just from their safety aspects.

“Bus trips can be a community-building exercise that children enjoy. It cannot be compared to the cramped atmosphere in autorickshaws."

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