New school bus service promises safety

Updated: 2012-07-06 11:56

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou (China Daily)

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A specialized school bus rental firm that claims to be the first of its kind on the Chinese mainland started operation in Guangzhou on Monday, aiming to tap into a market largely not served by high-quality vehicles.

The company has 16 buses in four sizes and all meet the national safety and technical standard for school buses introduced in May, said Li Jianmin, president of Guangdong Tongan Automobile Rental Service.

Imported or domestically produced, each bus is equipped with a global positioning system device, child card reader and vehicle data recorder. They all have a front bumper, emergency escape doors, windows and hammers, emergency lamps and seat belts.

A driver and a supervisor are provided for each bus.

"We were shocked by the disastrous school bus accident in Gansu province and the market (for this service) is huge," Xie Hongying, a senior manager of Guangdong Tongan, said of the establishment of the service.

Nineteen children and two adults lost their lives in Zhengning county, Gansu, when an overloaded school bus collided with coal truck last November.

The accident was one of many that have made school bus services a hot topic in China, where most school vehicles fall short of the national standard implemented in May.

More than 90 percent of the 3,000 school buses registered in Guangzhou and 16,000 in Guangdong province are converted vans or other passenger vehicles, Xie said.

Kindergartens, primary and middle schools in Guangzhou need at least 6,000 school buses.

Xie said it is unrealistic for schools or the government to buy and operate school buses under the new standard.

The number of school buses operated by Guangdong Tongan will rise to 60 by the end of this month and 1,000 by the end of this year, Li said. The buses cost from 300,000 yuan to 1.2 million yuan ($47.000 to $188,700) each.

The service, including accident and third-party insurance for children, costs 400 to 500 yuan per child per month for Chinese-made buses and can cost up to 1,000 yuan for imported vehicles. Xie said the cost was in line with, or below, the market price for bus services.

Xie described her company as a semi-charitable organization expecting little profit.

She said two kindergartens have already signed up to the service.

Xie is hoping for tax breaks for the business similar to government subsidies and tax incentives for such businesses in many developed countries.

Director of Security for the Guangdong Education Department Chen Riwen said since not all schools are able to run the rather demanding school bus service well, they are advised to outsource the service to specialized rental companies.

Market-oriented school bus services are encouraged, he said.

Peng Peng, a senior researcher with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said such services should become the trend because regulated and unified management of school buses will better ensure safety. Preferential policies should be available to these service providers, such as subsidies and tax incentives, Peng said.

Li Yu, whose son is taking the kindergarten van for 150 yuan a month with insurance of 200 yuan a year, said she considers the school bus rental service a better choice in safety but expensive.

Zeng Kaixin, whose son will start going to kindergarten by school bus in Guangzhou this year, said he still prefers buses run by the kindergarten, which he feels are easier for the government to supervise.

Zheng Erqi and Wu Songyi contributed to this story.