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Opinion divided on way to better school bus service

By Guo Rui (China Daily)

09:01, March 12, 2012

While some lawmakers have urged tightening regulations on school buses, others say stricter regulation will mean heavier costs for rural schools.

With school bus safety mentioned in the 2012 government work report, the issue has aroused discussions among deputies.

Zhou Hongyu, a National People's Congress deputy who proposed motions regarding school bus regulations in 2011 and 2012, told China Daily that he was deeply saddened by several tragic road accidents.

"The worst one was in November, when 19 children died in Gansu," Zhou recalled, saying the tragedy made him realize the importance of carrying out strict school bus management by the government.

To ensure children's safety, the legislative affairs office of the State Council on Dec 11 released a regulation draft to address the problem. But the regulation has still not been promulgated and implemented.

Zhou said it was necessary to form a nationwide school bus system, especially in poor and remote regions.

Zhou said in his NPC motion that governments at all levels should play the role of superintendent and should develop an investment plan for guaranteeing the quantity and quality of buses.

However, the safety regulation says that government must provide school buses, while the schools must shoulder the responsibilities of operating them.

Wang Yue'e, an NPC deputy from Hubei province's Yangxin county, said that it is impossible for her school to afford the school buses' operating fees.

Wang's school is located in a mountainous area where 400 students live and study.

Wang said most of the students had to take a bus because the journey is too long to walk every day. In Wang's school, parents and the school pay for the services of a local school bus company.

"The cost is very low," Wang said, since the bus was only hired for the morning and evening.

Wang said they were incapable of buying a school bus and could not even operate it well if the government provided one.

"Different areas need different methods for solving school bus issues," Wang added.

Li Jianbao, an NPC deputy from Hainan University, said: "The shortage of finances is a main obstacle to the nationwide school bus system improvement."

Other deputies submitted proposals saying that school buses are not a "money issue", but that more financial support would show the government's determination to solve the problem.

On Feb 17, another tragedy happened in Central China's Henan province when a van carrying 15 students collided with a bus, leaving one dead and 13 injured.

Deputy Minister of Education Liu Limin said it would be better to ensure students can go to schools in their vicinities.

"That will offer students a more convenient journey rather than acquiring high-priced school buses," Liu said during a group discussion of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference annual session on March 7.

While hearing so many discussions about school buses, Liu insisted that the less frequent use of school buses would be more effective in eliminating the chances of bus crashes.

"When children can go a shorter distance to school every day, the amount of bus problems can be expected to ease," Liu said.

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