Why can’t China adopt a school bus system similar to the U.S.?
On December 30, 2010, a “school bus” taking 20 elementary school children fell into a creek in Hengnan County, Hunan Province. 14 drowned, 6 were injured and hospitalized.
The so-called school bus was actually an automatic rickshaw. The three-wheeler has only ten seats, but fit 20 inside. Several children had to squat on their haunches or stand between the two rows of seats.
In far-flung Chinese rural regions where households are too scattered and commute can takes up to hours, among vehicles used for transporting students are not only vehicles intended for agricultural uses, such as trucks and tractors, which do not meet safety standards, but also illegally modified and junk cars that can be very dangerous.
Because of lack of any emergency exit or escape tool such as a life hammer, the 20 students were stuck inside the rickshaw after it fell into the creek and didn’t have the strength to break out.
In Chinese cities where the number of burgeoning middle class is growing, many drive their private cars to give their children a ride to and from campus. Families that cannot afford a car use two-wheelers, placing their kids in the back. Streets near elementary schools and middle schools are always packed with people and traffic at schools’ opening and closing hours.
Meanwhile, a picture of a traffic accident in the United States has drawn much attention from Chinese netizens. In the picture, the Hummer was totaled, but the school bus was barely out of shape. Chinese were amazed at how much impact the U.S. school bus was designed to withstand, and realized China has a lot to do to ensure children’s safety.
“It shows how seriously Americans take children and teenagers! When can domestic school bus be like this?” The post in Mop, a popular discussion forum, said.
Currently, school buses operating in Beijing fall into four categories in terms of ownership and funding: those owned by the school, those rented by the school from the public transit company, those funded by parents voluntarily, and those funded by corporates. School buses of most of Beijing’s public schools, if any, belong to the last three categories.
A staff member at the legal office of Beijing Traffic Management Bureau, who asked to speak in anonymity, was quoted by People’s Daily as saying, Beijing does not have any regulation or even strict definition regarding school buses. That is to say, Beijing’s school buses are all unregulated.
The only supervision that schools exercise over school buses is limited to checking drivers’ I.D. and licenses, registering buses to the local educational commission, and lecturing drivers on safety every month. As for what kind of vehicle can be used as school bus and what rules and traffic laws are drivers bound by, no government agency was responsible. Schools don’t want to be held accountable for any accident that takes place outside the school, so having no school bus and passing the buck to parents is a convenient way to wash their hands of the matter. Therefore, most public schools in Chinese cities offer school bus service.
Yang Yu, a commentator at China Central Television, once said on TV that it is impractical to learn from U.S. school bus system, as “the situation in China is different.” He said that in the U.S. there are school districts. Children that come of school age go to school according to where they live. Only on this premise is it efficient and viable on the long run to adopt a school bus system. However, in China where cities are constantly evolving and changing their planning, schoolchildren either live within walking distance or come from all corners of the city. Therefore running school buses is not economical.
But according to an article by People’s Daily, 70% of Beijing’s 1.2 million kindergarten, elementary school and junior high school students need a ride from parents or nanny. Parents complained that having to give their kids a ride really affects their work, but not doing so makes them concerned for their kids’ safety. Demand for a school bus is so high that Ms. Li was quoted as saying, “As long as the fee it charges is reasonable, we parents are very willing to pay.”
Wang Meng, a fifth grader, said, “Public buses are very crowded. Running school buses would be great. We will have seats and won’t need to worry about pickpockets. I wonder when we can have school buses.”
Schools want governments to legislate for a school bus system and foot the bill; governments look for excuses and poor-mouth.
Finally, Kuandian County of Liaoning Province in China’s northeast, took the lead. The county, one of the poorest in Liaoning, has spent 2.4 million yuan on 12 school buses since 2008, and invests nearly 2 million each year on maintenance and payroll.
“It’s in fact not matter of money,” said Geng Yujiang, Kuandian’s party boss, “It’s about whether you give weight to it.”