In the past six months the UAE has seen school bus operators invest hundreds of millions of Dirhams in improving safety across their bus fleets.
Only last week, Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education and Chairman of Emirates Transport announced that 722 new school buses have been approved for purchase and will be operational during the current 2015/16 academic year.
Speaking to the Khaleej Times, Mohammed Abdullah Al Jarman, general manager of Emirates Transport, said the new buses costing Dh180 million would be, "emphasising Emirates Transport's commitment to ensure the highest standards of safety, security and convenience of students.”
Since the tragic death of four-year-old Abu Dhabi resident, Nizaha Ala’a who died on a locked bus, school bus operators have invested heavily in improving their fleets, safety, security and staff training.
However, many issues refuse to go away and even as recently as last month, the National reported parental complaints of an Abu Dhabi school bus which had been running allegedly from June 2015 to September 2015 with no air-conditioning.
Parental opinion in the UAE remains polarised on school bus use and the residual issues which plague the sector, namely: cost, safety and duration of the trip.
Mum Huda Ramadan said, “school buses are VERY expensive....especially when you have more than one child at school. I know our school has good supervisors on the school bus, and the drivers are very good also. So for safety and congestion purposes, I support school buses more than hiring drivers- which is the only 2 options most parents here have.”
“The issue I'm facing with the school bus is the long ride. My kids are on the bus for almost an hour (one way) which is very tiring for them,” said mum Zeena Assam.
Back in June, Dubai, keen to improve the safety and reputation of school buses and reduce congestion in the Emirate, announced a new RTA school bus initiative run by the Dubai Taxi Corporation.
The proposed RTA buses were to be operational by September 2015 and 30 schools were believed to have already signed up for the 'smart-bus', although whichschooladvisor.com is still trying to ascertain how many of the buses launched on schedule.
The RTA buses were to be fitted with six external and eight internal cameras monitored by the RTA control centre. In addition, they were to allow for booster and child seats while offering WiFi and an identity card system to track students.
However, even with the new safety measures many parents remain unconvinced.
Mum Rhonda Dotson notes, “I would like to use the buses and probably will once I go back to work. I am concerned though as I've seen bus drivers driving badly. I live just one street away from a school in Garhoud. I have seen all kinds of dangerous driving by bus drivers heading to the school. This includes changing lanes without indicating, speeding down my street, swerving from one lane to the next and tail gating. I really think safety standards could be improved and should be uniform. At the moment, it seems to boil down to sheer luck whether you get a safe bus service or not.”
In July 2015, Abu Dhabi Education Council and Emirates Transport Company announced new measures to ensure student safety on school buses in the capital. Improvements included an ID card system, student tracker and a check-in button.
However even with the safety modifications, parents in the capital remain concerned, and not only by the buses themselves.
Mum Treva Marie Mahmoud said, “even if I worked I would take my children to school because of the way I see people driving, not the bus drivers, but regular drivers. They have no respect for buses, people don't stop as they should and they are constantly cutting off buses. Especially in the morning the driving is terrible. Car drivers should be more thoughtful, peoples’ children are on those buses, be considerate, think a little.”
It would seem even with state-of-the-art improvements and a continually updated fleet, parents in the Emirates still require more convincing.