MUMBAI: School bus population on Mumbai’s roads has declined to 6,000 from 8,000–a 25% drop–as compared to the pre-pandemic years even as the number of
and cars that ferry school children has seen a 13% rise from 16,000 to 18,000 vehicles.
With a fire incident in a school van last week, the School Bus Owners’ Association (
) fears for the safety of students who are usually crammed in vans that flout rules and do not have permits. On June 16, a school van caught fire in Andheri. Although there were no children in the vehicle, the RTO later found that it did not have the mandatory annual fitness certificate and was not “roadworthy”.
“There are many such illegal van operators who carry students beyond capacity in a vehicle and play with their lives,” said
, SBOA president, who has petitioned Mumbai police and RTO on the issue. “We agree that there is a shortage of
in the city, but it is dangerous to send your child in a van which does not follow most safety rules,” Garg said.
Radhakrisnan Nair of Nityanand Travels, which operates school buses, said that parents try to save a few hundred rupees by sending their children in private vans. According to Nair, these vehicles do not follow basic rules and often don’t have bus permits, insurance, fitness certificates, fire extinguishers, GPS, and a woman attendant. “Also, there are many vans which operate on non-transport number plates, which is not permitted,” Nair added.
However, Bhandup resident Shruti Jagtap said due to the shortage of school buses, there was no option but to send her children by private vans. “Also, bus fees have been hiked and some of the new bus drivers do not know the route,” she said.
SBOA members said they have hired personnel to replace old drivers who had quit as school buses were lying idle for nearly two years due to the pandemic-induced lockdown. “The new drivers are now fully trained and know all the routes. Besides, paying more for a school bus will guarantee the safety of your child and a secured trip,” Garg pointed out.
RTO officials said they conduct regular checks on vehicles that are dangerous to ferry children. “We have also sent a notice to the van that caught fire last week,” an official from the Andheri RTO said. SBOA members have demanded that vehicles that can seat fewer than 13 should not be not allowed to ferry students.