Dubai: Minibuses and vans will continue to be used for school runs in Dubai despite concerns raised by the police recently about their safety, a senior RTA official has said.
Around 30 per cent of vehicles used for school transport in Dubai are minibuses and vans, which traffic experts, including Dubai Police, are calling unsafe for transporting students.
Speaking at the School Transport Conference organised in April this year, Dubai Police Chief Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim had termed vans unsafe for school transportation and hinted at the banning of vans from school runs.
However, RTA insists there are no plans to phase out the vehicles any time soon.
“This [the banning of vans] was suggested by our strategic partners Dubai Police and we considered and studied the proposal. However, currently within RTA’s perspective there are no plans to phase out vans,” said Tareq Al Gaith, Director of Franchising & Enforcement Department, at RTA’s Public Transport Agency.
Interestingly, Al Gaith admitted that small vans are not as safe as big buses but referring to RTA’s safety measures he said: “There have not been any accidents involving school vans or minibuses over the last three years as we have implemented strict safety specifications, hence we don’t see any reason to remove them from the fleets suddenly. There are safety concerns like vans make passengers more prone to injury in accidents compared to other vehicles, which requires to be studied extensively before taking any step.”
Dubai Police have reported that around 5 per cent of the accidents that took place this year so far have involved vans, however, none of these were on a school run.
A primary concern of most experts is the overcrowding of vans and use of the small vehicles for long-haul transportation, for which vans are considered unfit.
“Vans are not fit to carry more than 10-12 people and the legal limit is 12, but in practice the limit is openly flouted. What is more concerning is that children are cramped together in these small buses, which is dangerous,” said Eisa Abdul Rahman Al Dossary, former CEO of RTA’s Public Transport Agency and currently working as an independent consultant on traffic and transportation.
He added that vans should be allowed for school runs only on short trips on internal roads.
“What is disturbing is the fact that vans are used to transport children on long distance trips. I feel vans are not fit drive on highways at high speeds and I’m in favour of having certain restrictions on their movement rather than banning them completely,” he said.
As many as 131,491 students commute on 4,560 vehicles every day in Dubai, with around 30 per cent of these vehicles being vans or minibuses.
Transport operators feel any ban or changes in regulations should be implemented gradually.
“We have communicated our concerns to RTA and they have assured us that there are no changes this year. We don’t mind if there are any restrictions or changes to regulations but operators should get more time to make alternative arrangements,” said Hussain from Arab Falcon Transport, which transports students from 11 schools.
He added that vans are important for the operation of school transport, particularly covering areas that have very few students.
“We can’t use a big bus in an area where there are only five or six students. In such cases we have to use smaller vehicles otherwise we have no option but to put these students on a bigger bus along with students from other areas, which could mean students spend a longer time on road,” he explained.