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|Many Vietnamese parents would enjoy the emergence of a public school bus system Photo: Ngoc Han|
As a mother to two children studying at the Vinschool Green Bay elementary school, Thuy Linh shared that with her tight schedule, she had to sign up for student transit services that cost VND1.2 million ($50) a month for each child.
Linh said that the school bus service saves her family time on ferrying the children to school and picking them up every day. She also feels safer that there are teachers in charge on the bus. However, she also complained about occassional bullying that is largely ignored by the adults.
Linh’s concerns are shared by many other parents, because not every school providing shuttle services can ensure the careful monitoring of schoolchildren, especially when these are mostly spontaneous services operating on a basis of co-operation between the schools and transport service providers. However, there is a grievous lack of official regulations or standards for these vehicles and their operation, which allows operators to dip below the standards expected by parents with impunity.
According to statistics from Hanoi Department of Transport, in 2019 there were 17 schools running shuttle services under private contracts, with a total of 879 vehicles picking up and dropping off students. In several cities and provinces, many vehicles are not eligible for transport business and are not accredited for technical safety, but are still used to ferry students.
Last August, the death of a six-year-old boy who was left for nine hours straight on a school bus contracted by Gateway International School in Hanoi horrified parents and education leaders alike. This inevitably raised questions on the actual safety of current shuttle services, and led to a push to organise an official school bus system.
Talking to VIR, Pham Quang Vinh, a parent whose children are attending M.V. Lomonosov in Hanoi’s My Dinh district, said that most parents can only have faith in the school’s contract with transport suppliers, while the actual quality of the vehicles remains unknown. Vinh expressed his desire that Vietnam soon develops a public school bus system to address the needs of tens of millions of students at all levels, and to calm the fears of families.
“In many other countries, school buses are a separate purpose-built transport system and users actually get a higher discount than on public vehicles. There should be regulations ensuring priority for school buses in traffic, with specific rules and supervisors on the buses,” Vinh added.
Parent Thuy Linh stated that she would be willing to let her two children switch to using a public school bus if the system is implemented and provides sufficiently reliable, with good support, even if the fees do not change.
“Public school buses would overcome the limitations of the current bus service with longer operating hours, allowing students to participate in more extracurricular activities after school without worrying about getting home. This system would also contribute to reducing congestions during peak hours and the cost will be uniform, avoiding the current disorder in pricing,” Linh said.
In addition to voicing concerns about the quality of the current shuttle services, many parents also questioned whether a public service would not deny schools a major source of revenue.
Addressing concerns, a representative of Sky-Line School in Danang said that revenues from the school bus service are very small as schools organise free pickups at certain points in the city, and calling by additional farther stops for a very low fee. Sky-Line School also pledged that it is willing to participate in the public school bus project if the route is optimal for students and covers the school’s existing route.
Across the globe, public school buses are nowhere near a new idea. Most famed is the United States with its iconic chunky yellow vehicles and one of the largest purpose-built transportation systems in the world. Though managed and operated by each school district itself, all American school buses share the same prominent colour and are a top priority vehicle in traffic.
Moreover, school buses are subject to strict standards for the vehicles, drivers, and management. For example, buses in the US are equipped with multiple exits, alarm systems, and cameras.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, the government has been imposing laws requiring childcare centres and preschools to install warning devices to prevent children from being left alone on the shuttle.
Along with that, financial support mechanisms and methodical operation also contribute to school buses being trusted by students and parents.
Realising the high potential of a public school bus service, Vietnam has been planning to develop similar projects.
Just recently, the Ministry of Education and Training has proposed introducing a number of regulations on student transportation in the amendments and supplements to the Law on Traffic. Accordingly, student transportation should be considered a special type of system, together with stricter regulations to enhance safety, capacity, and responsibility of related parties such as service providers, drivers, and student supervisors.
Local authorities will need to set up carefully located pick-up and drop-off points for students, and at the same time give priority to school buses in traffic laws in relation to other means of transportation.
Three years ago, Hanoi Department of Education and Training carried out a survey on the need of using school buses upon organising a public system for student transportation. The organiser received more than 270,000 responses from some 350 schools in the city. However, until now plans have yet to be deployed and school buses are still contracted by schools independently.
Pham Thi Lanh - Parent, Long Bien district, Hanoi
I have a 10-year-old child who is attending a public elementary school. Because there is no shuttle service at this school, my husband and I take turns to take our child to school every day.
Due to our busy work, plus traffic congestions, sometimes we feel really tired and inconvenient but we have not found any better solution yet. Letting my daughter use public buses is hardly possible as these are always overcrowded, and I would feel worried about her security.
I very much hope that Hanoi will soon develop an official school bus system for students so that parents like us could find some peace of mind. The school bus system would also reduce traffic congestion and be more suitable for young students.
Vu Thi Mung - Principal, Mat Troi Hong Preschool
As our kindergarten is quite small and located in the outskirts of Hanoi, most of our students are children from the neighbouring villages.
Because the children are of preschool-age, it is inappropriate and not feasible for us to implement shuttle bus services for students.
However, considering the current situation of society, the deployment of a school bus system is necessary as the number of children is rising and parents are increasingly busy with work, struggling to arrange transportation for their children to and from school.
On the other hand, the use of school buses must also be considered based on appropriate development plans. For instance, the location of the school, the neighbourhood’s traffic, and the age of the children all matter when it comes to these decisions.
Vu Thi Thuy - Co-founder, Helios Montessori Preschool
Managing students on public school buses requires more knowledge and understanding, as preschoolers need a lot of support and also child seats in their own cars.
Preschool students must be sent to parents directly and must be on the registered list prior to using these services. Ideally, students should be accompanied by their teachers as they are often unable to protect themselves, especially with strangers working or travelling with the buses.
I think that the establishment of a public school line bus will contribute to solving many problems of travel needs, costs, and transportation. However, it will be more suitable for older students, I think.
Tran Hong Hanh - Mother of first-grader, Le Quy Don Primary School
We are using the school’s shuttle service with a fee of VND1.7 million ($74) per month. After the incident of 6-year-old student at Gateway, schools are more cautious about students’ safety and have a strong commitment to parents.
I support the implementation of the public school bus model. As far as I know, many advanced countries around the world have used this model for a long time.
However, I think this model will be more suitable for high school or junior high school students because their demand for moving is relatively high.
As for elementary school students, almost all parents want the school’s bus to take them home because of the children’s young age. If my children are sitting on a public school bus with many other people, it will make me feel nervous about their safety.