School traffic nightmare
Christian Peregin asks what can be done about road chaos when term starts
It happens every year. Schools open their doors and roads are jam-packed with traffic.
“A 10-minute drive has become a 45 minute drive,” is how one reader described his journey.
Although the presence of traffic police seems to have eased some problem areas, other roads have become a cacophony of hooting cars and road rage.
Considering the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the roads, the situation is unlikely to improve without significant changes.
The Times asked its online readers and road experts to try to come up with a workable solution.
One of the issues keeping parents away from school transport is the cost, which in many cases exceeds tuition fees. “It would cost us €300 per term,” said a reader identifying himself as C. Pisani.
Gabriel Grech added that the cost of owning a car just to take the children to school is approximately equal to the cost of mini-bus tariffs.
“Everybody will prefer to have their own car and take his children safely to school himself,” he said.
The Government has tried to ease the situation by offering free transport to schoolchildren who attend State schools, but even this has failed to reap the desired results, as many parents still opt for the school-run themselves.
Parents explained that their choice was not just motivated by money but also by convenience and safety considerations.
Katie Worley said her boys are picked up at 6.45am, and reach their school an hour before it opens, “unsupervised”.
Katya Rossignaud added: “It’s unfair that young children are picked up way too early, to enable the mini-van to fit in two journeys instead of one – and drive like maniacs to do so.” Adrian Agius seemed to agree: “How can I trust the life of my daughter to one of these Formula One drivers?”
Another problem is that the vans, which collect schoolchildren of different ages, can become a haven for bullying. “I would gladly send my daughter by transport provided by the school, but the issue of bullying keeps me back,” said K. Cassar.
So what are the solutions?
Some have called for more safety and supervision, while others believe the key is having a more efficient service.
Director of Paramount Coaches, Leo Grech, said the solution was in schools starting at different times.
Most schools begin between 7.50 and 8.15am, giving drivers a 20-minute window in which to get children to school on time. “Why don’t primary schools start at 9am?”
Though many parents criticise drivers for trying to fit in as many trips as possible in the morning, he said drivers had no choice. “You can’t make a living otherwise.”
Van driver Emanuel Falzon, chairman of Mini-bus Coop, agreed that schools should open their doors at different times. This would also allow drivers to drive slower and more safely, he said.
But solutions must be based on a clear understanding of why parents are not opting to use transport.
One of the problems is that coaches are too big to supply transport in narrow roads, forcing children to end up waiting in main roads even when it is raining.
But the cost remains an issue with independent and Church schools, he said, adding that the State could subsidise a part of the school transport.
“After all, although they are going to a private school they are still students of the State.”
Bernie Mizzi, a school head and chairwoman of the Independent Schools Association, believes schools should combine forces.
“If we want to be really creative, schools of an area could organise transport together from particular areas. Why should Chiswick use a separate system to St Michael’s? If we were to put our heads together we could make it far more economical and far less damaging to the environment.”
“We should be employing the 21st century skills we want our children to learn: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. We want our kids to do all this but we should do it ourselves first. And I think we can do this if we really get our heads together.”
She agreed that the Government should also consider the idea of providing assistance to independent and Church schools the way it did with State schools
The public’s 10 proposals:
1. Schools and transport companies should combine
resources to provide routes to schools in the same vicinity
(e.g. San Anton and San Andrea; Chiswick and St Michael’s).
2. Vans should be made safer with the use of CCTV cameras,
tracking devices that monitor speed and location and
constant supervision involving parent volunteers.
3. Staggered school opening times would enable drivers
to carry out two or three trips without having to take children
to school too early or too late.
4. Smaller vehicles, like minivans, should be used instead
of larger coaches so children can be picked up from home
instead of main roads.
5. The Government could offer subsidies to encourage
use of schemes that reduce traffic.
6. Heavy traffic like trucks and bendy buses could be
banned from rush-hour, especially on key school-run routes.
7. A traffic policeman should be provided to each school,
including independent and Church schools.
8. Arriva could provide a specialised and subsidised service
just for schoolchildren on the most popular school-run
routes which would include adequate supervision.
9. Subways and bridges could be used in areas such as
Corradino Hill to eliminate the use of traffic lights or pedestrian
crossings that slow down traffic.
10. Children who live close to their schools should be
encouraged to walk or cycle to school in groups.
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‘Year opened very smoothly’ – Ministry
Education Minister Dolores Cristina said the scholastic year opened “very smoothly” thanks to a great amount of preparation and the help of the police.
Asked about some of the inconveniences faced by children, the minister’s spokesman said school opening times were already staggered between 7.45 and 8.30am and extending this to earlier or later hours would negatively affect the whole school community.
According to a seven-year contract signed with transport providers for State schools, students cannot be picked up more than one hour before school opens, the spokesman added.
“This rule is honoured in the main. There are a few difficulties especially on routes in remote areas where coaches cannot enter and thus a student would need to be picked up by a van and then transported to a pick up point on the main route.
” The ministry added that the majority of parents in the State sector use school transport. The spokesman concluded: “The scenario is that we live on a small island with many vehicles and thus it is important for all to take the necessary precautions so as not to increase traffic on the roads.”