Parents Fume as Bus Journey Times Jump

UAE parents have expressed their frustration at the lengthy bus journeys many children experience to and from school. Children as young as five years old are reported to be spending as much as two hours on the bus both morning and afternoon.
Parents Fume as Bus Journey Times Jump
By Jenny Mollon
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Parents from a number of UAE schools have expressed frustration at the length of time their children are expected to spend on a bus. Feedback from a broad cross section of schools indicates that these issues have, in part, been caused by the recent relaxing of Covid-19 regulations. With more children now permitted to travel on buses, schools have had to make numerous last minute changes to their services.

One Dubai parent, who preferred not to be named for this article, was upset that her 5 year-old son would be travelling for two hours to school from their home in Arabian Ranches 1. The school is located close by in Arabian Ranches 2 and “you can see it from our house!” said the frustrated Mum. The same journey took just 45 minutes in the last academic year, and the family are at a loss to understand the huge change. The Arabian Ranches mum went on to explain her concerns, saying,

“I feel this needs to change not only for my child but for all children who are being impacted by long travel times. This will cause fatigue throughout the school day. I work full time and feel backed into a corner as the bus is our only option. The school is not supportive of this situation. I assumed the school would have set out guidance on travel time prior to signing a commercial contract with the transport company but this has not happened. I am extremely disappointed”.

The situation is similar for parents of children at Ignite School. One concerned Mum told us she chose Ignite School because it is just 5km from her home. Her young child has recently enrolled and the family paid more than 6000 AED in bus fares. The school predicts that once the schedule is finalised, this short distance will take between 60-90 minutes.

The Ignite mum was at pains to point out the issue did not belong to any one school. With older children in a number of GEMS Education schools, she had experienced similar problems with its transportation too.

“My other children are at GEMS schools and we have received messages asking us to send them on the bus in order to prevent congestion. I would love to, but there’s no incentive. There are no sibling discounts, no one way only options and last year we had to fight to get our pre-paid fees returned to us when the bus service was cancelled due to Covid-19”.

Bus concerns are being addressed by senior management at GEMS Education. Chief Operating Officer, Elmarie Venter, told us:

“We are aware that the bus services at some of our schools have encountered issues in the opening days of the new academic term, resulting in longer journeys than usual for a number of our students. We fully understand the frustrations of parents and students who have experienced delays and we are liaising very closely with STS, our dedicated school transport provider, to ensure all issues are resolved quickly and smoothly. Our schools will continue to keep parents informed, and we look forward to all our bus services running to their usual high standard very swiftly.”

Other schools where parents have contacted with bus complaints include GEMS International School - Al Khail, GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail, Lycee Francais International Prive de Dubai and Kent College Dubai. At Kent College, one working parent is frustrated by a service on which she needs to rely in order to work.

“The bus service is hugely expensive. To give you a sense of how long the journey should take, Kent College to our home is around 10 minutes by car. Yesterday, my son spent more than 1hr 20 minutes on his return journey and there were still other children left on the bus to be dropped home! The journey was somewhat better the next day, but still much longer than last year.
“Only after many communications with the school that we have been able to arrange a ‘to the door’ drop off. Previously, we had to collect our son from a bus stop that is around 15 minutes-walk, or 5 minutes-drive from our house. That might not sound much, but as both myself and my husband work, this was up to our nanny, who also cares for our younger son”.

Kent College Dubai Principal, Anthony Cashin was sympathetic to this issue, but felt that the school had done all possible preparation over the summer.

“Just two days into a new academic year, it is not surprising, nor unreasonable, to expect teething problems that will need to be ironed out. To begin with, Kent College Dubai has seen an exponential growth in new enrolments, and as such, more students are using the bus service. Each time even one student is added to the bus service, the route is reworked... our bus schedule has probably changed 10 times over the last two weeks! During the summer, we planned our bus routes to the best of our ability: the drivers drove the routes, pupils were assigned to buses, and we estimated arrival times at all the stops. The schedule however can only be fine-tuned once it is actually being used in live time.

“As a school, we need to find the balance between ensuring our bus service is both financially viable as we do not own these buses, and remain convenient for pupils and parents. The recent changes to COVID-19 guidelines including buses being able to run at 100% capacity were released to us late in the day, and so for all planning purposes, last minute reshuffling was inevitable. As always with Kent, our door is always open and we welcome feedback from the users of our bus service. This will obviously help us to address any concerns parents may have and allow us to fine-tune our service.”

One of the most popular bus transportation companies in Dubai is STS. Managing Director Steve Burrell was keen to explain the challenges.

“Many of our students are once again returning to school in our buses after several terms of distance learning. Our teams have been busy planning for all routes throughout the summer. We have experienced some delays in the first few days through a combination of greatly increased traffic on the roads and extra student demand at the start of the new term.
“We fully understand that these delays are frustrating for our families, but we are working to resolve all the issues in the first week and thank parents for their understanding. Our main focus when we incur delays is to message the nominated parent or guardian and keep them informed. It is also useful for parents to use the STS app, as this shows the bus check-in time and estimated arrival at home or school. As always, the safety and well-being of all students using our buses are our top priorities.”

A spokesperson for the KHDA suggested that parents should first discuss bus related complaints with their school. Thereafter, they can either pursue a complaint with the KHDA or, if the issue lies solely with the transport company, with the RTA.

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