Mumbai: Pay our dues, bus owners tell schools and parents
With partial reopening of schools a week away, school bus operators say they have been left to fend for themselves by all stakeholders
Schools across the city are set to open from November 23 for older students with many riders, guidelines, permutations and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). But the school bus owners and operators, a vital cog in the educational ecosystem, are still waiting for some kind of direction. Currently, all they are getting is stony silence.
Anil Garg, president, School Bus Owner’s Association (SBOA) Maharashtra, said, "We are waiting for SOPs from the government. We have had meetings, written letters, but there has been no relief. Government buses are working to capacity, school buses have been idling. The government has simply stated that owners must pay their staff. Do not cut salaries, owners were told. How does one propose to do that with no work for months?" asked Garg, angrily adding, "All the time it is kisaan, kisaan, kisaan, (farmers) for our political parties. We respect farmers, but do transport people not matter?"
Garg said, "If not the government, we were hoping that schools would approach us and have meetings about how we can work together. We have around 2,300 schools from Mumbai to Raigad as members of our association. During admissions, school authorities tell parents how they have a good bus service. Once these admissions are over, they do not care much."
Anil Garg, president, School Bus Owners Association, Maharashtra
For owners, it is about continuing their relationship with schools, but, right now it is as if they are on their own. "Several schools own buses and the staff had been summarily told to leave at the start of the lockdown," Garg said.
On November 2, once they learnt of the directive for reopening of schools, the Association wrote to principals/managements/trustees of educational institutes in the state. Bus owners spoke in one voice saying they were anguished that many schools were yet to pay outstanding school bus fees, "Some owe us from January to March. Schools take these buses on contract and tell parents to pay the school bus owner directly. Many parents have not paid for the time the buses were running," said Garg.
Addressing this, the letter stated: School bus owners/operators have rendered service till March 2020 for which we are yet to receive a good amount from parents and schools as well. Looking at the disastrous COVID 19 situation we tried to contact them asking for outstanding bus fees but there was no response, all our efforts were in vain."
The letter requests co-operation from schools stating that they were like family, and dues need to be cleared.
"If at all schools do not co-operate then the association owners will have no choice but to stage a protest in front of schools and block their gates. No school bus owner will allow schools to reopen until they get their last academic year bus fees, as 80 per cent of parents and schools have not paid yet," the letter read.
Owners and operators claimed they do not want to be on the warpath, but have no option. "Even after we are allowed to be back on the roads, we will need at least 20 days to get our vehicles ready. We also need at least R75,000 per bus, to help us kick-start the service," the letter said.
Garg finished saying, "It is both the government and schools that have overlooked or deliberately ignored these problems. The government should have taken bus owners/operators/contractors into confidence before announcing this reopening."
No. of schools that are SBOA members
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