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On school bus services and the return to face-to-face classes
I did an interview last August with a major business daily but I couldn’t find it as published as part of an article. The topic was a very timely one as children return to schools for face-to-face (F2F) classes. Here are the questions sent to me and my responses as I remember them:
1. How will the transport sector cope with the expected increase in demand as more schools resume face-to-face classes?
For schools located in the cities, what we see is people opting to take private transportation in the form of cars or motorcycles to take their children to school. This is because public transportation supply is still not back to pre-pandemic levels while at the same time, parents and guardians and even students who commute by themselves (e.g., high school and college levels) may be hesitant to take public transportation as well as school service vehicles. The latter may be attributed to concerns about the safety particularly with regards to health (i.e., getting infected or exposed to Covid-19 if they take public transport or a vehicle where they share the ride with many other people). We need more public transportation capacity to be able to address the increased demand brought about by students coming back for face-to-face classes. We also need to have other options or alternatives for their safe journeys including walking and cycling for their commutes.
For schools in the rural areas, there may be little adjustment concerning transport since most schoolchildren walk or take motorcycles or tricycles to school. This is perhaps because most schoolchildren reside within the school district and do not have long commutes like what we have in many cities (e.g., most schoolchildren who study at schools like Ateneo, LaSalle, etc. likely live in another city or town rather than near the schools).
2. How many school buses are expected to resume operations? How many of them have permanently closed?
I currently don’t have the data on that but LTFRB should have reference or baseline data. School service vehicles are required to register with the LTFRB and perhaps a look at the number registered before and during the pandemic could show how many can be expected to resume operations nationwide and per region. LTO doesn’t have these numbers as they only register by vehicle type. We will not know from LTO data which jeepneys, vans or buses are used for school service. Most school service are tied to the schools the student of which they provide transport services to. If the school closed, then chances are that the school service may apply to other schools. That said, the last two years where schools operated online were a backbreaker to many school service and only the registered numbers with LTFRB can tell us just how many are not returning at least for this school year.
3. How does the surge in fuel prices affect the operations of those involved in school transportation? Will this affect the ability of teachers, schools staff and students to travel on-site?
School services might increase their rates, which are usually monthly or semi-monthly. This is to make up for the increase in fuel prices and vehicle maintenance as well. This will likely only affect students’ travel rather than those of their teachers or school staff. The latter group will likely take public transport or their own vehicles for their commutes. In their case, their travel may be affected by transport fare increase or their own fuel expenses if they use their own vehicles. They have little choice though because they have to travel to work. Student though may still enjoy some respite as many schools are adopting blended or flexible schedules that will only require students to do face-to-face classes on certain days of the week.
4. What’s the long term impact of the pandemic on the school bus industry?
People will remain to be apprehensive in letting their children share a school van or bus ride due to the pandemic. We can only promote vaccination and compliance with health protocols to ensure that schoolchildren will have safe journeys as far as Covid-19 is concerned. The return to face-to-face classes this school year will perhaps help determine if the pandemic will have a long term effect on the industry or if people’s (parents and guardians) trust to school bus services will return within the short term.
5. How can school bus drivers and operators cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic and rising fuel prices?
LTFRB issued Memorandum Circular 2022-066, which adds health protocols for school service:
• Regular examination of the drivers and conductors’ fitness to work by checking their body temperature and screening for symptoms related to COVID-19.
• Regular disinfection of frequently-touched surfaces, such as but not limited to seats, armrests, and handles.
• Mandatory wearing of face masks at all times by drivers and conductors, including passengers.
School transport services must comply with these protocols and demonstrate the safety of their mode to convince people to return to using or subscribing to school service vehicles. Meanwhile, there is really no escaping rising fuel prices but collective transport in the form of school service vehicles are still more efficient and cheaper per passenger compared to using private vehicles; not to mention contribute to reducing traffic congestion along school routes. This must also be promoted (i.e., people made aware of the advantages) vs. private vehicle use.
Safe streets for children
We have been working with UNICEF and several partner organizations on a project on Child Road Traffic Injury Prevention (CRTIP). The Final Reports for the two pilot cities, Valenzuela City and Zamboanga City, have been submitted and represents over 2 years work including during the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The latter part of project implementation indeed became a challenge as we couldn’t travel and engage face-to-face or conduct field surveys like how we did in the first part of the project. Still, I believe we were able to accomplish much and most of what we initially set out to do. Here are the covers of the Final Reports we submitted to UNICEF and we understand will be officially or formally transmitted to the two cities.
The reports narrate the surveys conducted for 25 schools in Zamboanga and 41 schools in Valenzuela. Each initially had selected 25 schools but Valenzuela pushed for an additional 16 schools midway into the project. The SR4S tool developed by iRAP was used for the assessments of critical areas around the schools. The initial assessments were used to identify interventions to improve safety in these areas and recommendations were submitted for consideration of the cities as well as the DPWH where applicable (i.e., the DPWH has jurisdiction over national roads and improvements proposed along these). While some interventions were implemented, others and many were delayed mainly due to Covid-19.
We also conducted a survey to determine the commuting characteristics of schoolchildren in both cities. Since most schools were public schools, it was no surprise that most children lived near the schools or within the school district (which is basically the catchment area for these schools). Thus, it also came as no surprise that most schoolchildren came by foot (walking), motorcycles (riding with a parent) or motor tricycle. There’s a lot of information and takeaways from the data but unfortunately, we could get the bigger, more complete picture of Valenzuela City because they selected only elementary schools covering students from Grades 1 to 6. Zamboanga had a more robust data set with both elementary and high schools, covering Grades 1 to 12. The information derived from these surveys were also analyzed and related to the SR4S assessments. The commuting survey results and SR4S assessment are subject of two technical papers presented in the recent EASTS 2021 conference hosted by Hiroshima University.
What’s next? We are now drafting a proposal for a Phase 2 of the project. We hope to continue and reinforce and follow-up on the recommended interventions from Phase 1. We also hope to be able to work on the CRTIP data hub that was only partly completed due to the many constraints faced by that part of the project. I will post here from time to time about some of the outcomes from the surveys and assessments.
Some takeaways from a UNICEF webinar
The UN together with its partners recently launch a Second Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021-2030). I will share the statement in a subsequent post. For now, I will share some slides from the recent webinar organized by UNICEF that focuses on safe and healthy journeys for children. Those of us who are working directly with UN agencies have been working on safe journeys for children particularly as they travel between their homes and schools. The recent launch and pledges or commitments of support from partner organizations will surely reinforce efforts to ensure the safety of children whether or not they return to school.
Context setting or rationale for UNICEF’s initiatives
Key resources or references shared by the webinar host
The term ‘co-benefits’ reminded me of a past project I worked on that was about low carbon transport. We also did assessment using co-benefits of low carbon transport. Among these were road safety.
The slide and the table speaks for itself – examples of effective strategies
There were several presentations during the webinar. However, the most interesting and informative for me was this one about the guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school.
Ten (10) points to consider as guidance for safe and healthy journeys to school
Database initiative in support of the guidance (I will get the link to this and share it in a future post.)
An example from London’s experience
This is a slide on what cities can do to promote active transport among children.
The photo shows what is termed as a “bicycle school bus”. This and “walking school bus” are real options for children and their guardians when traveling between their homes and schools. Such underlines the option of not using motor vehicles (i.e., reduction in motor vehicle trips).
I will try to elaborate on these in future posts, particularly on the 10-point guidance.
On school trip generation again
Traveling at noontime along Sumulong Highway in Antipolo City, I chanced upon the changing of morning and afternoon shifts for a national elementary or grade school. The scene is similar to that of the high school I posted previously but there were more people here considering many grade school children were with their parents or guardians, easily doubling (more?) the number of persons generated by elementary schools. However, there are few private vehicles generated by this public school and so congestion along Sumulong Highway is due to the sheer number of people entering, exiting and waiting at the school’s single gate and the tricycles manoeuvring in the area. I also noticed here that most people did not take a vehicle to go to/from school but walked to/from their homes. Again, this underlines the issue about where we send our children for schooling and how they commute. It also says something about the quality of schools that ‘force’ parents to choose the more exclusive ones located a good distance away from where they reside.
Students arriving at the school have to fall in line and wait for the morning batch to come out. There is very limited space outside the school so people including parents and guardians spill out of the sidewalks and occupy part of the curbside lane.
Causing some congestion were tricycles manoeuvring as they brought in students. Those waiting for their potential or intended (sundo) passengers were lined up along the curb side.
On school trip generation
I chanced upon the changing of the shifts for a national high school. This was the time of day when the morning shift students were dismissed (i.e., coming out of school) and the afternoon shift students were coming in.
Students come out of the school to mainly either walk or take public transport (mostly tricycles) to their homes.
Most vehicles give way to people, especially students, crossing the busy street. There are usually traffic aides in the area who help manage traffic and to ensure pedestrians may safely cross or move about.
There are no severe traffic congestion here unlike those generated by many exclusive or private schools. There is actually a private school just beside this public high school that also generates significant private vehicle traffic but somehow manages not to congest this major road that’s part of the L. Sumulong Memorial Circle the way another private school congests Sumulong Highway in the mornings.
Is this simply because of the school being a public school as compared with private schools? Perhaps it is, given the perceived disparity in income classes concerning those going to typical public schools and those going to typical exclusive schools. But income disparity aside, wouldn’t it be possible for most students to just walk or take public transport to school? I actually envy the public school students in the photos above as they can walk to school. And that is because they likely live near the school, which is something that is a desirable situation if public schools are at least at par in quality with the more established private schools (especially the sectarian ones where many parents likely prefer their children to go to). This disparity in quality leads to people residing in relatively long distances away for the preferred schools to travel (often with their private vehicles) to and from the exclusive schools. The point here is that it really is more complicated than what it seems in terms of trip generation.
School is back and so are safety issues for schoolchildren
It’s school time once again in most parts of the Philippines. Public and private schools including most colleges and universities have resumed classes this month of June while others start this July and August. But with the resumption of classes, there is also the re-emergence of issues pertaining to the safety of these children. Students are exposed to the hazards of commuting. These include the likelihood of being injured or killed by vehicles running along the roads the students use to get to school.
The photo above is a typical scene in front and around many public schools in the country. Schools are located along national roads and often lack spaces for students and their guardians. Many end up occupying the roads and causing congestion. Of course, that congestion is secondary to the safety of these children. Nevertheless, such issues need to be addressed in a more holistic manner rather than attempt to solve one as if they could be isolated.
Most students of grade schools and high schools around the country either walk or take public transportation in their commutes. They are exposed almost daily to motor vehicle traffic along the roads and risk being sideswiped or run over by vehicles. In certain cases, small children walk significant distances thereby increasing the likelihood and risk of being harmed by traffic.
Traffic is particularly bad along most roads leading to schools mainly during the morning, mid-day and afternoon periods when students arrive or leave their schools. In Metro Manila, for example, the worst congestion are experienced along major roads like Katipunan Avenue (due to traffic generated by Ateneo, Miriam and UP) and Ortigas Avenue (due to La Salle Greenhills). That means a lot of time and fuel are wasted and more emissions are released into the air that we breathe. However, one can argue that in terms of road safety, this is better since gridlocks mean slow moving vehicles that make it safer for walking or cycling. This is not the same in the provinces or rural areas where there is less congestion and vehicles travel at faster speeds.
Children heading to school on a ‘skylab’ version of the motorcycle taxi
While there are initiatives pertaining to revisions in speed limits, such are limited (pun not intended) by how much action can be done in order to enforce these regulations. Add to this the requirement of having the instruments to measure and record speeds in aid of enforcement. This was what MMDA did along Commonwealth Ave. and Macapagal Blvd. with the acquisition of two speed guns. I don’t see them using these anymore and wonder if the instruments are still working. Meanwhile, expressway authorities are using these as they continue their enforcement of speed limits along tollways. [I am aware of NLEX and SCTEX enforcement units employing speed guns along those tollways.]
The DPWH is also doing its part by doing road safety audits and identifying measures to reduce the likelihood of crashes involving these students. Among these are rumbles strips and, in some cases, the construction of sidewalks but these are not enough. There were recommendations from an iRAP project many years ago but the agency was resistant to what they thought were new and innovative ideas that were actually already being implemented in other countries. Perhaps these recommendations and that iRAP study could be revisited and solutions drawn from there?
Back to school – concerns about congestion and safety
Many roads again are expected to become more congested as school resumes in most parts of the country especially in cities. But while congestion is usually the top issue along roads near many schools, one concern that usually takes a back seat to congestion is safety. Many public schools in the provinces are located along national highways. Many if not most of their students walk to and from school, usually on the carriageway when the shoulders are too rough, dusty or muddy. This situation for students increase the likelihood of their being hit by vehicles using the road. The risk increases because of their exposure to the dangers posed by motor vehicles. Following are a couple of photos showing typical cases at public schools along national roads. Both are in Antipolo City.
Typical at-grade pedestrian crossing in front of a school. Students in most public schools often commute by walking or taking public transport like jeepneys or tricycles.
Despite this pedestrian overpass across a public school along Sumulong Highway, most students still prefer to cross on the road rather than go up and down the overpass.
Oftentimes, the seemingly obvious solution of constructing overpasses for safer crossings for students does not pan out as planned or intended. There are many underutilized pedestrian bridges since the natural way is still to cross at-grade. Then there is the issue of providing them safer walking paths or walkways. In both photos above, the sidewalks are only token (“puwede na iyan”) and insufficient for the pedestrian traffic supposed to use them. We need to plan, design and provide such facilities for our pedestrians, especially children, who are marginalized compared to those who have their own vehicles for travel.
Addressing congestion due to school traffic congestion
There are two important traffic news stories yesterday:
- MMDA successfully clears parked vehicles outside La Salle Greenhills
- MMDA sets drop off, pick-up points for Ateneo students
For some reason that’s a bit surprising for many, the MMDA seems to have solved two of the most enduring issues on traffic congestion along two major thoroughfares. LSGH is along Ortigas Avenue while Ateneo is along Katipunan Avenue (C-5). Both have high trip generation rates and a significant percentage of their trip gen is comprised of private vehicles. While, Ateneo’s trip generation has led to traffic congestion due to the sheer number of trips the university attracts, the congestion due to La Salle is due to the poor traffic management and lack of parking spaces for vehicles attracted by the school.
I only wonder why it took so much time to address these problems considering the solutions mentioned in the articles are basically ones that could have been implemented years ago. In the case of La Salle, good old fashioned traffic enforcement apparently did the trick. But then, the MMDA even with the LGU constraint could have been stricter before whether when they were under Bayani Fernando (BF) or any of his successors as MMDA Chair. With Ateneo, the scheme is very similar if not the same as what BF proposed over a decade ago when he was MMDA Chair. At that time though a touchy issue was the U-turn scheme he installed along Katipunan that cost trees and the former service road on the west side of the avenue. We can only hope that these claimed ‘successes’ will be sustained and ensure smoother flow of traffic along the major roads they directly affect.
On school trip generation and exclusive villages
In the news weeks ago is the coding scheme for vehicles that Ayala Alabang, a posh residential subdivision in Muntinlupa City, imposed on vehicles coming in and out of the village. According to media reports, affected are vehicles bound for and coming out of De La Salle Zobel (DLSZ), which is an exclusive school located inside the subdivision. There is another exclusive school inside the village but they don’t seem to be in the news regarding this issue on car stickers and access through the subdivision roads. Perhaps they generate a lot less cars from outside the village?
I lived in villages where there are exclusive schools also located inside the villages. They are smaller compared to DLSZ and likely generate significantly less vehicles than the latter. Also, the numbers of vehicles they generated from outside the subdivisions are not enough to cause traffic congestion along the main roads to and from the schools and the village gates.
For the school in the former subdivision we used to reside in, I noticed that most students arrived via school service. School service vehicles carry more passengers than private cars and so help reduce the number of vehicles generated by the school. These were mostly vans or AUVs and not the mini-buses, coasters or regular buses of when I was in grade school and high school myself. Though lower in capacity compared to buses, AUVs and vans could take in 10 to 12 students comfortably and perhaps max out at 14 to 16 people depending on the sizes of the children the ferry between school and their homes.
In the current subdivision where I live, most students go by car and the wider main road that they use translated to faster cars running between the village gate and the school. I have observed many instances when speeding vehicles do not slow down at intersections or when there are people about to cross the street. There are no humps along the main road like those in the previous village. Humps or speed bumps can be very effective in reducing speeds but improperly designed humps can eventually damage your car’s suspension. The rolling terrain of our village does not seem to be a deterrent against speeding and limited sight distances along the main road presents a significant likelihood that a crash can occur involving speeding vehicles. Thus, some traffic calming measures need to be formulated and implemented before tragedy strikes.
Now that school is almost out for most schools (including the ones inside subdivisions) I think the attention the issue has been getting will steadily die down. But that will be until schools open again in June and residents again feel the impacts of traffic generated by the schools from without the subdivision whether its traffic congestion or road safety that is the more pressing issue in residential subdivisions hosting schools. Perhaps a sticker system and the restriction of the number of vehicles of outsiders is one way to reduce the negative impacts of traffic generated and then there is also the option of not allowing a major school to be located inside a residential subdivision in the first place.