Mandeville, Manchester — Eight of the 18 buses slated for the contracted bus service for Holmwood Tehnical High School rolled out on Monday.
They operate between Mandeville and Christiana in North East Manchester where the school is located.
The new service is in response to the death of four Holmwood students and the injury of several others travelling in two minibuses to school on September 25. It was the most recent in a string of fatal crashes involving students from Holmwood. In January this year 18 Holmwood students were hospitalised after the minibus in which they were travelling overturned at the foot of Shooter's Hill in Manchester, and in 2011 another bus loaded with Holmwood students overturned on the Bryce Hill road, leaving four dead.
To some extent, the new bus service also addresses a persistent call from North East Manchester Member of Parliament Audley Shaw for a rural school bus system.
At a press briefing at the Manchester Parish Council Monday, Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites said arranged transportation in the education system should be "normative rather than exceptional".
He was among the stakeholders who journeyed to Mandeville to witness the launch of the new service.
"I believe that what is being inaugurated today is a model for other communities... This is the way that communities using existing resources can, if they are properly organised, offer a better mode of transport [which is] so critical to success in education. This is a day for the end (of) 'party buses', an end for the buses with heavy tints and outrageous music. We want the modest, joyous, disciplined system that we have seen pulling out of the bus park today to Christiana," he said.
Thwaites added: "We are insisting that every bus driver and every bus be checked out properly to ensure that there are no renegades, there are no people with outstanding tickets and that proper training and... proper livery on the buses [are maintained]... Uniforms for the drivers will be the order of the day. We are asking the operators [of the new bus system] to hold prices, even in difficult times," he said, adding that the transportation subsidy for students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education will be applied shortly.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses plied the route as a temporary solution. That arrangement will continue until the end of this week, thanks to a $300,000 subsidy from the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) allotted to the North East Manchester constituency.
Shaw said that the buses will also transport students travelling from Mandeville to Christiana High and back, as a parallel system to Holmwood is being worked out for that school.
JUTC managing director Collin Campbell said that although making the service available to the schools came at a cost, it was a pleasure.
For his part, principal of Holmwood Paul Bailey said the new buses in the system will only make one trip to the school in the mornings, so there will be no need to rush. The buses, he said, will assemble at the bus park at 6:45 am and depart at 7:15 am.
In the afternoons, they will leave from the school at 3:30 pm and at least one will leave at 5:00 pm to accommodate students engaged in extra classes and extracurricular activities.
He believes the system is a "win-win" and should be supported to ensure its continuity.
The Holmwood principal said that the arranged buses slated for the Albert Town hub in South Trelawny and Cave Valley in South West St Ann, from which his students also travel, will come on stream after the mid-term break this month.
Thwaites used the press briefing to announce that there are plans to build a high school in Mandeville which offers technical subjects like those at Holmwood.
He said that many students are travelling the distance because of the "excellence of the technical offering".
"The country must come to grips with the need for upgrading our schools in reasonable proximity to where people live — zoning. One of the aspirations of the Ministry of Education is to establish a strong technical high school in the Mandeville area. Many of the students who now leave Central Manchester and other parts to go to Holmwood is because of the excellence of the technical offering there. That's good, but the price of it is one that we have to assess," said Thwaites.