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Proper School Bus Service needed

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Fri, Aug 26. 2011

The latest episode in the ongoing saga of matters pertaining to minibus operators has the National Omnibus Association (NOBA) announcing that they intend to take their minibuses off the road next Monday, as a form of protest.{{more}}

One of the contentious issues is NOBA’s dissatisfaction with the fares gazetted by Government earlier this month, for transporting school children. According to NOBA, the new fares, which state half price should be charged for children between the ages of 4 and 16, and those in uniform, will result in the operators receiving less than they did under the previous schedule. They are requesting that they be allowed to charge 75% of the adult fare, which is what they charged previously.

However this matter is resolved, the wider issue of a proper school bus service still needs to be addressed. Government itself has a limited bus service and offers concessions to some private operators as an incentive to get them involved in this essential service. In addition, the SVG Fairtrade Organisation has used revenue from the social premium derived from Fairtrade banana sales to fund and operate a school bus serving some of the banana areas.

Such initiatives are critical to thousands of students and pupils getting to their places of study. As gas prices and the cost of operating buses escalate, many bus drivers have been displaying increasing reluctance to transport students, as when they do, they get less than full fare for utilization of the same seat. Many schoolchildren, particularly the younger ones, have suffered in this regard, having to walk long distances in the rural areas.

In an unregulated private bus service such as the one we have here, with no national transport system, the decision whether or not to pick up our students is often left to the whims and fancies of the drivers. With so many young men now in control of minibuses, those whims and fancies do not always fit in with educational or national priorities.

The situation is compounded by the imperfections inherent in the system used to place students in secondary school. Anomalies often result in some of them having to be transported long distances, sometimes utilizing two buses, to get from their place of abode to school.

So while the NOBA and Government negotiate student fares, a much more comprehensive review of the school bus system is necessary. We have said before that NOBA’s role cannot simply be confined to seeking higher bus fares. Broader areas concerning public transportation and the level of service must be put on the table as well.

There are many people with creative ideas for improving the public transport system and for ensuring that our children get to school and back safely and on time. We need to harness all these into a well-regulated system which ensures that all the interested parties get the best out of it. Let’s have another look at our school bus service. It would be well worth the effort, we believe.

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