Run school buses with 'Bus Mothers'
Daily Mirror Editorial
Jan 31, 2011

The recent crash of a van carrying school children and the report last week that a school van was being driven by a man whose right wrist had been amputated have focused much public attention on this issue with President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself intervening and giving orders to the Police Chief to double check on school vans and their drivers. Acting immediately, the Police Chief gave orders that those driving school vans should have at least five years experience while the condition of the school vans will also be regularly checked by traffic police.

While these and other measures are welcome, they are like in many other cases a reaction to a tragedy or a problem. Instead we need to reflect on pro-active solutions to this problem because with as many as 6,000 school vans operating daily in the Western Province alone, and some 20,000 countrywide, more accidents are unavoidable despite all the security measures including closed-circuit television cameras on highways.

Until the globalized capitalist market economic system was followed wholesale by Sri Lanka most of the children from middle or lower income families went to school by bus and sometimes walked long distances, while some used school buses which unfortunately did not operate properly. This difficult way of going to school and coming back produced students who had more determination and drive in life because they learnt the hard way. Unfortunately the market economy encourages families and children to seek the easy way which is often not the best way and this imported easy-come-easy-go culture produced among other things the school van boom.

Some years ago the ambassador of a rich country made a significant observation on what he saw outside a leading school in Colombo. He saw about 200 school vans taking the children back from school and said in his wealthy country a similar operation was performed by about 25 buses. The ambassador said what he saw was a relatively poor country trying to act like a rich country and thus becoming poorer. If 25 buses are used instead of 200 vans, and if this is done in hundreds of schools, especially in Colombo and other cities, the plus factors would be tremendous. Firstly, there will be a huge saving in fuel usage and the country could save millions of dollars in foreign exchange. This will be even more important because in the coming months Sri Lanka may not be able to get fuel from its main supplier Iran, and may have to buy from other countries at a higher cost.

Besides the saving in fuel usage 25 school buses instead of 200 vans will significantly reduce school-time traffic jams. Another vital factor in using school buses instead of school vans is the reduction in environmental pollution which has caused an alarming increase in global warming to the extent that some scientists say the world might destroy itself soon, astrological doomsday predictions apart. If less than 500 school buses could do the work of 20,000 school vans the extent of environmental pollution will be reduced by a large degree and significantly school children will be making an important contribution to save mother earth. For this to work in a sustainable way, it will be necessary for school authorities to coordinate with the Sri Lanka Transport Board in working out a safe and efficient school bus service. Advice could be obtained from countries which operate such school bus services successfully. For instance in Hong Kong an efficient school bus service is run with a compassionate ‘bus mother’ to look after the children.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka