Kerala school reopening: Buses haven't been plying for two years, how are they coping now?

Sabu said, since people have been associated with school drives for so many years, they don't have any connections with those in other industries
Picture for representational purposes only | (Pic: Express)
Picture for representational purposes only | (Pic: Express)

When the schools reopened, it elicited mixed emotions among the various stakeholders associated with the sector. While the students and parents expressed excitement, the schools found themselves struggling to meet the transportation needs while the drivers of private mini-buses and vans wore a dejected look. Also, the lack of enough buses and vans has led to traffic chaos at nearly all schools prompting the institutions to come up with their own route maps to solve the problem.

"When the schools took the online route following the pandemic, our vehicles went off the roads. The two long years of remaining idle and lack of maintenance have rendered them unfit for the roads," said Sabu K J, a driver who had been ferrying students of Bhavan's Vidya Mandir, Elamakara, Kochi for the past 20 years. Those two years were a nightmare! he added.

Sabu said, since people have been associated with school drives for so many years, they don't have any connections with those in other industries. "Hence, we remained jobless," said Sabu who survived these two long years of joblessness thanks to some well-wishers among the group of parents whose wards used his van to go to school. He said, "To make my van road worthy I had to spend nearly Rs 50,000."

Some have sold their vehicles, but Sabu said, "That too wasn't a viable option for me, since the price being offered was very low. It wouldn't have even covered the amount needed to pay off the loan."

Another driver, Santhosh RP, who has been in this field for the past nine years, said, "I came into this sector starting off with a small vehicle. I gradually graduated to bigger vehicles but when the pandemic struck, I lost everything."

"I was unable to pay back the loan and had to sell the vehicle at a loss," he added. Santhosh, who is doing the school run for students studying at St Teresa's Convent Girls' Higher Secondary School, Ernakulam, said, "I have now taken a vehicle on rent." However, he said, due to the increase in the fee a lot of parents are not interested in using the services. "These parents are ferrying their wards in their own vehicles and this has led to an increase in the traffic around the schools," he added.

According to Shijo Augustine, director, of the All Kerala Self Financing Private Schools Association, a lot of schools are facing a serious shortage of trained drivers to operate their buses. "When the pandemic struck the buses entered the sheds and the drivers got laid off since the schools weren't able to pay their salaries," he said.

However, now when the schools reopened it became difficult to recruit drivers, he said. "The reason? As per the state government's guidelines, only those drivers who have undergone training provided by the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) can be allowed onto the driver's seat. But there is a dearth of such drivers," said Shijo. Of course, there are many candidates standing outside, but the schools can't do anything due to the guidelines, he added.

According to him, it would be great if the government took the initiative to hold another training session preferably towards the end of June or early July. "This would solve the problem. As to the lack of enough buses? It is true that many schools had to sell their vehicles since it had become an uphill task to properly maintain them. Such schools are now using the service of private agencies," said Shijo. However, using the services of private agencies does have a risk factor, he added.

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