AL AIN // School hours in Al Ain will be staggered for the next month to curb traffic chaos, road accidents and pollution.
About 20,000 pupils will be affected by the change at 19 of the 33 schools on Khalid bin Sultan street - also known as "the schools road".
Eight schools with a total of 9,566 pupils will start at 7.30am, nine (9,654 pupils) at 8am and two (1,858 pupils) at 8.15am. Classes will run for the usual five and a half hours, with classes ending at 1pm, 1.30pm and 1.45pm.
Schools, parents and police will give the municipality weekly updates on how the new times are working.
The morning and lunchtime traffic chaos on the street as 32,000 pupils are brought in and out has long been a source of complaint. Daily police patrols help, but there are still numerous, mostly minor, accidents.
At the end of the pilot scheme officials will analyse traffic data and feedback from parents and police, and decide whether to make it permanent, said Dr Dlair Abdulkarim, transport planning adviser at Al Ain municipality.
Hamad Al Dhaheri, head of private schools and quality assurance at Abu Dhabi Education Council, said the staggered times should "help to secure school students and staff from hazardous road incidents such as crossing congested and crowded roads, breathing unhealthy and polluted air, noise pollution and pick-off and pick-up delays due to traffic congestion".
Parents greeted the news with relief. Shamsa Al Iryani has been sending her children to a school in a different part of town to avoid the congestion.
"I placed my children in a school in Al Tuwaiyya to escape the traffic of the schools road," she said. However, her nieces and nephews attend school there. "The crowds are unbearable. Every day we see some sort of accident there."
The new hours were "something to thank the municipality for", but long overdue, she said, and there should be longer gaps between start times. "There should be a 30-minute interval at least to give parents enough time to leave," she said.
"And why can schools not have other gates, maybe a back gate? More than one entrance would really help the situation."
Al Ain Junior Private School will be among the 7.30am starters. After school, buses will leave by 1.50pm.
Suhail Munir, communications officer for AJ Group of Schools, which owns the school, admitted the earlier hours might cause problems for working parents.
"The new timings may conflict with their office timings," he said. "But mostly our parents have been supportive about changes to help security and safety on the roads and in school."
Our Own English High already starts at 7.30am and will continue to do so. But its principal, Rocky Miller, said the new schedule for other schools would help its parents, too.
"This staggered system is required to ease the traffic congestion we have every day," he said. "It is very heavy and we think this is a good step to address the matter."
He said lighter traffic would mean later morning pickups by school buses. "Buses take into consideration the time they will be in congestion," he said. "This will also help cut back on their journey time."
The mother of a 17-year-old at Al Adwh Private School said its 8am start was the same as previously, "but maybe if the neighbouring schools are starting later and earlier, it might be easier to bring them into school."
Other changes are in the works to ease the school-run traffic, including replacing several roundabouts with traffic-light junctions and pedestrian crossings.
"There will be drop-off locations for children and a special lane on the road for school buses," said Dr Abdulkarim. "So really, it will be a combination of policies."
A previous attempt to make roads safer with pedestrian crossings along roads - rather than just at junctions - was scrapped after it led to motorists speeding before the light turned red.
Gulf Academic School
Twam Model Private School
Indian Private School
Al Ain Junior Private School
Our Own English High School
Al Sanawbar Private School
Al Ittihad Private School
Global English Private School
Al Safwa Private School
Darul Huda Islamic School
Universal Private School
Zakher Private School
Palestinian Private School
Al Adwh Private School
Pakistani Islamic Private School
Manor Hall International School
Al Ittihad National Private School
Al Andalus Private Academy
Grace Valley Indian School