Autorickshaw rides to the school, a cheaper but dangerous option
An overcrowded autorickshaw halts and out comes a bunch of girls, all students forced to take the vehicle unmindful of safety concerns. They know they have no choice as the shared rickshaw is the cheapest available option.
Says one of the students, Kirthi: “I take the auto from home to tuition and from tuition to school and then later back home with a group of schoolgirls. The question of my safety obviously worries my parents, but we have to make do this way as there are limited options before us.”
Her friend Deepika adds that if bus passes were still being issued, it would at least reduce the cost of travel. But the fact remains that buses are overcrowded and safety questions are left unaddressed.
Preferring anonymity, an autorickshaw driver admis that many rickshaws are overcrowded when children are dropped to school or to their homes. Generally, he says, bigger children are taken five at a time. But if they are smaller, eight or more children are packed in one vehicle. This, he agrees, is not an ideal situation.
Another driver, Kumar says he takes seven children at a time, charging a monthly fare of Rs 1,000 per head. “I transport students of only one school. It’s not possible to cater to different schools as they all open at the same time. My work starts at 6 am. We drivers charge for all months, including vacations. Sometimes the traffic police do stop us and tell us that we don’t have permits,” says Kumar.
Inevitably, it is the high cost of school vans that forces parents to take the unsafe autorickshaw option. To strike a balance, Kamakshi, a parent, accompanies her child in the rickshaw every day. While this is a bit of a hassle, she finds her mind is at ease. The ride costs her Rs 1,000 per month.
Although unsafe to travel when children are packed much beyond capacity, these school autorickshaws have been around for several years. Driver Manjunath says he has been transporting school children for 19 years.
He explains, “I take the kids from Neelsandra to Madiwala, charging Rs 1,200 per child. I drive slow to ensure safety and have safety railings. The charge is for the whole month including Sundays when it is a holiday. Even school vans and private vans charge for holidays.”
School authorities overcharging for use of their vans and buses has been a perennial complaint among parents. It is said that every year the fare goes up by 10-15%, even if the price of fuel drops. But the high price does not imply better safety. A parent recounts an incident where a child sustained an injury in the spine when the van driver applied brakes at a road hump.
The school authorities, he recalls, refused to take responsibility for the incident and all the medical expenses had to be paid for by the parents.
But van drivers have a different take. They say that enrolment has actually gone up over the last few months and that they charge less for a few months before scaling it up to stay competative.
A van driver, Raghu transports 20 children in one trip. “I do both pickup and drop. I only transport kids, charging Rs 600 per head. We pick up and drop the kids safely.” Drivers insist that they drive carefully and that they have received no complaints from parents so far.
Matilda, a high school student in St.Francis High School says, “I travel by private van. It costs Rs 1,500 per month just from Madiwala to Ejipura. But I feel travelling by van is quite safe when compared to other modes of transport.”
She prefers to pay that additional amount since the van carries an ideal number of children without overcrowding. “It is comfortable. Our teachers also make sure to come out and drop us near our vehicle,” says Matilda.