With the national discourse still raging five days after a stabbing death at a secondary school, the Alliance Owners of Public Transport (AOPT) is reviving their calls for the start of a privately-run school bus service, contending that this would contribute to a reduction in violence among school children.
This morning chairman of AOPT Roy Raphael told Barbados TODAY that the wholesome education environment does not only include safety on the school compound but also during the commute to and from school.
He noted that while there is a school bus service run by the state-owned Transport Board, the efficiency of that service is hampered by bus availability, resulting in a significant number of school children riding the minibuses and ZRs, where there is little to no control.
“Government needs to revisit the whole private school bus service because Barbados is one of the few countries that does not have a privatized national school bus service. When you have a privatized school bus service you add that personal touch, as drivers develop a connection with the children. We have seen a reduction in complaints about children riding up and down on PSVs, but we still have other issues such as the loud music. I also don’t believe that a child should be standing on a bus to get to school,” said Raphael.
It is estimated that approximately 40 per cent of school districts in the United States use contractors to transport students, while in Canada, where some buses are operated by school boards, and the United Kingdom, almost all school transportation is performed by contractors. These contractors range from individual drivers with a single bus, to small companies, to large multi-national companies.
The AOPT president made it clear that he was not advocating for the private PSVs to take over the school bus service, but he argued that a similar set-up here would free up the Transport Board and private PSV buses to serve the rest of the travelling population, while helping to curb school violence by putting students in the right frame of mind to begin work.
“I think it will curb it. The children and the drivers will be familiar like in America. I am also proposing regulations that allow students to sit and not stand in a bus, they
also have cameras and so on. I think it will be well managed once the regulations are on the books. I don’t anticipate any problems,” he explained.
Raphael added, “I am not saying that this is going to fix the issue of school violence, but I believe that if students are coming to school in cramped conditions or with a certain type of music in their ears, they are already in an agitated state. Government cannot do it right now and the way to get this onstream quickly is to handpick capable private persons who can provide this dedicated service. My condolences go out to the school and families of the children, but this horrible incident needs to result in changes across the system, including in transportation.”