As schools reopen, MoBay Metro says no to students-only buses
Days before the resumption of face-to-face school on the back end of a second coronavirus wave, operators of the state-run bus company have warned that it would not be feasible to allocate any of its fleet solely for the transportation of students.
That note of caution has been sounded after Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced on Tuesday that external exam students would be allowed to re-enter school plants effective May 10. The restart will swing open the doors of 350 schools.
Colin Murray, chairman of Montego Bay Metro, said that the bus company stood ready to transport students to and from school next week but could not reserve units exclusively.
“I will assess the situation on a day-to-day basis, (but) I could not say to an elderly person, who is actually going on the same route, ‘You can’t travel on the bus’,” said Murray. “And I could not provide one bus for the elderly and one for the students. I could not do that.”
Murray said that on a normal day, metro buses would carry a mixture of commuters. However, at the bus depot, the students and the elderly are given the privilege of boarding the bus first.
“In fairness, the discussion with the principals of the schools on the routes we provide service has to be fast-tracked now because we need to know how many students will be coming out,” said Murray.
Public transport has been cited by epidemiologists and other health ministry personnel as a high-risk conveyor of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 46,100 people here and killed nearly 800. Social-distancing and sanitisation protocols have driven up overheads of both private and public transport operators because of increased cleaning costs and lower passenger counts stipulated under the Disaster Risk Management Act.
Montego Bay Metro currently operates a dedicated school and municipal bus service that transports students from Montego Bay to institutions such as William Knibb Memorial High and Wakefield Primary in Trelawny; Rusea’s High and Sandy Bay Primary and Junior High in Hanover; Spot Valley High, Cambridge High, Goodwill and Adelphi Primary in St James and Hanover.
Murray said the company plans to provide an adequate number of buses to meet the demand on the routes they are currently operating.
“We should have in excess of nine buses covering those routes. The seats are not a problem; we have enough seats,” he said.
The Metro chairman said the company was 80 per cent ready for the reopening of schools, except for the Goodwill route.
Thirty-nine thousand students from public and private schools are registered to do the Primary Exit Profile ability test for sixth-graders on May 26. Approximately 100 private candidates are registered to do CAPE.
Another 45,170 students in public schools and 1,162 private candidates are registered to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination from June 14 to July 16, but oral and practical components will begin on June 1.