A deadly bus collision in Gansu province has sounded the alarm for schools and alerted the authorities to fix loopholes in the school bus safety rules, an educational expert said.
The current regulations, released by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine in July 2010, haven't improved school bus safety, according to Yuan Guilin, a renowned education professor at Beijing Normal University.
"The regulations only discipline bus manufacturers, while schools are not required to obey," Yuan said.
"Schools in underdeveloped regions often ignore the regulations because of financial and human resource constraints," he said.
Under the regulations, every school bus must be able to carry at least 10 students, and schools may not use double-decker or articulated buses.
Every bus must have a teacher's seat, two emergency exits and a "black box" that can record accident data.
Two teachers' seats are required for vehicles that carry more than 40 students.
He Yajun, 35, a manager of the Wenquan Kindergarten in Qingyang of Gansu province, began to provide three recreational vans for 180 preschoolers at the kindergarten, beginning in 2008."I had to remove the 30 seats in the vans and install benches instead.
"They are overloaded every day, and it takes three hours to bring all the children from their homes to the kindergarten," he said.
But each child only pays 3 yuan (47 cents) to take the overloaded bus every day, which is an acceptable price for a rural family.
It is also the only choice for most rural families, as about one-third of the students live with grandparents who can't take them back and forth each day. Some children have to travel 15 kilometers.
He is worried that an accident like the one that killed 21 children could occur again, affecting the students at the kindergarten.
The only way to solve the problem is to buy two more vans. "But I spent more than 200,000 yuan to purchase three vans in 2008, and I spend 50,000 yuan on the drivers' wages and fuel every year," He said.
"We know that the school buses are overloaded and we complain about it, but we have no better choice. It is the only economic way to send children to the only kindergarten in our county," said a villager surnamed Yang in Qingyang.
"Parents want to save money as the average income for a local family is about 1,000 yuan. And the overloaded school bus only charges every student 50 yuan for one term," said an unidentified teacher at the Little Doctor Kindergarten in Qingyang city, where the children in the fatal accident attended school.
"The central government has not allocated money for a school bus budget, and many local governments also don't want to invest unless they are ordered to do so," Yuan said.
"The Ministry of Education should be given more power to take responsibility for school bus operations and coordinate with the public security authorities and other relevant departments," he said
"Schools should include the management and operation of school buses into their logistical system in order to better handle this problem."