x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abu Dhabi on a drive to improve school bus safety

Officials announce new regulations for school buses in Abu Dhabi, including GPS devices and CCTV networks.

ABU DHABI // School buses in the capital are to be fitted with GPS devices and CCTVs networks, provide attendants for pupils aged 11 and below, and adhere to an 80kph speed limit, according to new regulations announced by the Department of Transport yesterday.

Bus operators have until the beginning of September to modify half of their fleet, with the other 50 per cent to be completed by September next year.

The GPS devices will track bus locations, indicate speed and braking movements, while the CCTV networks will record audio and video.

All schools must provide transport services for their students either through buses they operate, or via bus service contractors that abide by the safety, reliability and quality service standards and are approved and permitted by the Department of Transport (DoT).

The new regulations were developed in coordination with Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and Abu Dhabi Police to identify and regulate school transport requirements and standards for school buses.

School buses must not be older than 10 years, said Yousef Alghoul, specialist for project planning and scheduling at the DoT. He said operators should coordinate with schools to ensure a one-way journey for a school bus does not exceed 75 minutes.

School drivers must carry out daily checks of lights, tyres, seats, and the structure of the bus, and faults should be reported.

The DoT permits for school bus drivers require them to be at least 25, hold a valid UAE licence for more than a year, have a certificate of good conduct, speak Arabic or English, and complete DoT-scheduled training programmes.

Drivers must also submit medical reports every two years that indicate they are free of chronic and infectious diseases, disability, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Schools are required to operate a sufficient number of air-conditioned school buses for all pupils, with separate buses for male and females aged 12 and older. If this is not possible, boys and girls must sit in separate areas.

A bus supervisor or attendant should accompany pupils aged 11 or younger to enforce the rules, oversee boarding and disembarking at pupils' homes, and ensure the children are met by a guardian. The buses should be fully equipped for children with special needs.

Drivers must also check that first-aid kits and fire extinguishers are available on the bus.

A private school official at the conference said parents were likely to complain about an increase in transport fees since buses would have to be modified to meet the new regulations. The official said: "The cost may be high, which will prevent students from using the bus."

Khalid Al Ansari, the Adec school services division manager, assured parents there would be a transport fee cap and that service providers will not be allowed to increase their fees without approval.

He added that the committee created a formula, taking into consideration all costs. "When we did our calculations, there would still be 10 per cent profit for the service providers," he said.

Ali Makki, the stakeholders relations manager at the DoT, said they were committed to making school buses a preferred mode of transportation to minimise carbon emissions and traffic congestion. "Factors such as time, safety, security, drivers and bus escorts are often being considered, and the new regulations support these," he said.

The DoT and Adec officials assured representatives from public and private schools, and transport providers, that amendments were likely to be made to the regulations.

rruiz@thenational.ae