Will there really be a rural school bus service?

Friday, September 01, 2017

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We will hold the applause until we finally see the rural school bus system in operation as announced by Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid this week.

People who have been following this issue will understand why we are hesitant, because over the past five years, at least, successive Governments have promised this badly needed service but have failed to deliver.

Mr Mike Henry, when he was the transport minister in a previous Administration, had vowed to get this service up and running. So too did his successor, Dr Omar Davies, who, in September 2013, went as far as stating that a pilot would have been rolled out in January 2014.

Indeed, Dr Davies had made that promise just after the death of four Holmwood Technical High School students in a bus crash in Chudleigh, Manchester.

The pilot, he indicated, would involve Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses serving students in Manchester and Clarendon — an area that had reports of serious crashes involving children and multiple problems transporting students.

Now we are hearing from Minister Reid that his ministry will be rolling out a pilot rural school bus transport system this month, through a special partnership with the Ministry of Transport and Mining.

According to Mr Reid, students from 91 primary and secondary schools in St Thomas, Portland, St Mary, Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, Hanover, and St James will benefit from the pilot in the first phase.

His ministry, he added, has committed $200 million for the first year of the pilot, and is continuing to have talks with Jamaicans abroad as well as international partners towards expansion of the service.

He pointed out that data compiled by his ministry show that students on the Government's Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education make up a significant number of those who are absent from school. Therefore, the pilot bus service will seek to address that problem.

That, we hold, is a good move. However, as we said, we hope that these are more than just mere words, because the country has been led down this path before.

We have consistently argued in this space about the great need for a rural school bus service due to the almost crippling effect that the cost of transportation has been having on families, given the long distances that most students must travel to get to school.

In addition, the issue of road safety cannot be ignored, as most of the crashes that have taken the lives of students resulted from reckless driving and the use of defective vehicles.

We remember that the current prime minister, Mr Andrew Holness, when he was the education minister, raised the issue of improved public transportation for schoolchildren islandwide, arguing that it will come within the framework of moves to make schools safer.

We reiterate that a more formal transport system will require the individuals responsible for transporting children to be more accountable. It will also necessitate that they be held to a higher standard.

Those are deliverables that we must demand if the service is to provide value.

We accept that this service will be costly. And in an economy with very limited financial wiggle room, maintaining it will be difficult. The Government therefore will need to find some creative way of ensuring that it is funded, as the education and safety of our children must be able to surmount all hurdles.




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