School bus service in the capital

Maswood Alam Khan from Maryland, USA
The government has undertaken a laudable initiative to introduce from the 15th of January a new bus service by BRTC exclusively for students of certain schools in Dhaka metropolitan area in a bid to ease traffic jam in the city. The project, undoubtedly a novel initiative of the present government, may go a long way in ensuring safety and security of our school-going children.

It is understandable that such bus service is being offered so that wealthy guardians feel discouraged from using their private cars for carrying their school-going children as it has been found that cars used for ferrying students are one of the main causes responsible for huge traffic jams on roads and especially on roads and lanes around schools and colleges where these cars are parked all day long.

We may hope that with introduction of such bus service poor guardians, if not the rich ones, will feel a sense of relief if their minor wards instead of risking their life by riding those flimsy and rickety rickshaw-vans, the veritable death-traps, can commute between home and school in the safety of school buses that are going to be introduced in the country for the first time as a pilot project. Such bus service by BRTC, we hope, will also encourage schools and colleges and especially transportation companies in the private sectors to introduce their respective wings for school buses on a par with modern yellow school buses we find in the developed countries.

The new school bus service by BRTC, we are afraid, may not eliminate concentration of cars near the schools and colleges at pick hours unless the guardians find the bus service sufficiently safe and secure for their wards to travel in.

Many families living in Dhaka or Chittagong city purchased their family cars and employed drivers primarily for safe commuting of their children between home and school; such families may not easily be convinced to let their children board the new school buses unless they find that the buses are way safer and less costly than their cars for their children’s commuting. Of course, such bus service may discourage many families from purchasing cars for their children who are yet to get admission into schools once they find the school buses attractive from the safety and cost points of view.

There should be strict instructions from the government to all the schools to stop allowing rickshaw-vans to carry school-going children and introduce their own modes of transportation, either micro-buses or heavy-duty school buses. The banks may be advised by the government to give transport loans to school authorities on soft terms for their buying individual school buses, provided the school authorities do not charge the students high bus fare. I am pretty sure many banks, as part of their commitment to social responsibility, may disburse such loans, either free of interest or at a very low interest. Such loans can easily be repaid within a period of two years from the revenue to be generated from the bus fares the commuting students would be paying.

Children from poor and mid-income families would be immensely benefited by the new school bus service if the half-yearly fare of Taka 1,400 is not too high for their guardians to bear. What is very important is to see whether a maximum number of school-going students can avail of the service from the earmarked stops and routes. And it has to be seen how minor children, who are less than 10 years old, are handled during their bus rides.

Ensuring security and safety of children when they would be embarking on and disembarking from a school bus and also during their riding the bus is of paramount importance. Any negligence on the part of the operators in handling the minor students during their commuting would be catastrophic and may foil the very purpose of introducing such school bus service.

We hope BRTC is going to introduce proper school buses with their inbuilt safety features suitable for children who have a propensity to indulge in plays and funs while riding a bus. There must be proper windows, doors, emergency exits etc. and the bus driver should be especially trained to handle minor children as passengers. If the buses are not air-conditioned its windows have to be so affixed that children would find it inconvenient to put their hands or heads outside of the windows. In one incident, I read in a newspaper a few years back, two teenage children fell out of a window as they leaned on a window of a bus they were travelling on in England.

The drivers of school buses have to be selected after proper scrutiny of their health and moral backgrounds and the school buses must meet the minimum international standard as to their safety features. There are a lot of strictures the school buses in the United States must follow as to rearview mirrors and warning lamp system, to cite an example.

Here in America a school bus is equipped with eight front and rear warning lamps: two amber lamps to warn of an impending stop and two red to indicate a stop in progress in addition to a plethora of sophisticated and comprehensive rearview mirrors for the driver to see whether the children are always safe and secure and to reduce the driver’s blind zones..

Our country may not afford to buy the sophisticated school buses like those in America. But BRTC must not use the normal buses as school buses. If the normal buses have to be used to save costs the buses must be retrofitted with fittings and features that are suitable for

children.

Another concern the bus operators must bear in mind is the school children’s behaviour, especially their bullying tendency when nobody is around to stop them from quarrelling and fighting. It is usually inside the bus the bullying starts in its simple form and turns ultimately into a complex bullying inside and outside of the school premises.

The decision to launch BRTC school bus service is going to fulfil a long-felt need of the young learners in the metropolitan city of Dhaka where, unlike in rural areas, pupils cannot really afford to go to their schools on foot when they have to live in far-flung areas. We hope, such school buses would gradually be introduced in other metropolitan cities of Bangladesh.

E-mail: maswood@hotmail.com

thefinancialexpress

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