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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

More school buses needed in Dubai to reduce traffic and pollution

Some 88 per cent of pupils in Dubai use private cars to go to school

School bus trips account for 13 per cent of the total number of trips during the morning rush hours in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
School bus trips account for 13 per cent of the total number of trips during the morning rush hours in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Only one per cent of journeys in Dubai use school buses and 88 per cent of pupils use private cars to get to school, according to Roads and Transport Authority statistics released on Sunday.

Mattar Al Tayer, the authority’s director-general, said the school transport sector in Dubai faced numerous challenges, one of which is the geographical distribution of schools across the emirate resulting in high pressure on roads adjacent to schools.

Others include the low percentage of school bus users. Only 11 per cent of the total number of schools trips are made by school bus, compared to 32 per cent in the United States, for example. The low occupancy rate of school buses, at 53 per cent, has the knock-on effect of more environmental pollution and traffic.

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“The RTA has upgraded the technical specifications of school buses and defined the responsibilities of operators, schools and parents to improve safety and security,” Mr Al Tayer said. “[We] are poised to enact legislation and incentive programmes to streamline the school transport sector and encourage students to use school buses and mass transit means.”

One of the major concerns among parents was the safety of their child on a school bus.

“It's hard for me as a parent to feel comfortable enrolling my child on the bus, partly because she's five and still quite young but also because I've seen how the bus drivers drive, and it's not in a way that puts a parent's mind at ease,” said Mariam Azzam, a Jordanian stay-at-home mother. “They speed, weave in and out of traffic, all to make it to school on time in the mornings, and it's worrying. Some bus rides can also take an exorbitant amount of time.

“It's too long for the younger children to be on the bus, and there's too much of a risk that they might fall asleep and then get forgotten on the bus.”

Ms Azzam said that when you factor in the high fee for school buses and the fact that it is often not covered by employers as part of the school fees package, using a bus simply did not make sense.

“I, for one, would rather not use the bus system, no matter how much the RTA tries to convince me otherwise,” she said. “I’m able to drop my daughter off or pick her up, which also gives me the opportunity to connect with her teacher, see her classroom and get to know other parents. For the older children, the bus makes sense.”

Rebecca Chamas, from the UK, agreed. “l think it's a great initiative from an environmental perspective as Dubai is very polluted,” said the mother of two. “I personally never considered putting my children on a school bus because of the lack of safety on the roads.”

While school bus drivers are supposed to be trained to drive safely, she said she had heard first-hand accounts from parents who had seen them speeding and driving off hastily after drop-offs.

“Nannies and supervisors aren't efficient at maintaining order on the bus as children undo their seatbelts,” Ms Chama added. “The seatbelts on the buses are not adequate to protect the children in case of a collision so my main issue really is general road safety in Dubai. There are too many bad drivers.”

Joyce Amm, a producer from Lebanon, sends her children, aged three and five, on the bus. “I’m a working mother so I’m not always available to pick them up,” she said. “I find them to be better than private drivers because my issue is that I would need to hire a nanny to pick them up from the class and I wouldn’t really trust the driver with all the stories out there.”

Ms Amm said she considered the bus safer thanks to its on-board nanny and teacher’s assistant that meets children at the bus.

“If they’re missing, they inform you via email, so it’s more controlled,” she said. “My experience with the bus has been good. For the environment it’s definitely better but if I’m not working, I’d rather pick up my children because I think it’s better for them emotionally as they’re still young.”

Transport experts said school buses played an important role in reducing traffic, in educating children and in avoiding CO2 emissions.

“We see 11 per cent as a very low level of school bus utilisation and we would like to see this number growing,” said Thomas Edelmann, founder and managing director of Road Safety UAE. “Many private cars can be taken off the roads during rush hours, which will lead to less traffic congestion and to a reduction in CO2 emissions. Just think how many cars can be replaced by one school bus.”

School bus drivers and attendants could teach children about safe behaviour in and around vehicles, he said, like how to use seatbelts correctly and how to cross roads safely.

“We believe the school bus eco-system can play a very important 'hands-on education' role,” added Mr Edelmann. “Higher school bus utilisation will also … lead to reduced school bus fees, which parents for sure would appreciate.”

School bus trips account for 13 per cent of the total number of trips during the morning rush hours in Dubai.

Statistics showed that the number of pupils in public and private schools in Dubai last year was about 295,000.