Teachers' union wants free public transport for students

MUT says students, up to post-secondary and tertiary, should get a government subsidized pass, which would help to alleviate the island's traffic problems

Malta Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bonello has strongly backed a proposal for the government to wholly subsidise public transport for secondary school students. 

Indeed, he believes that such a scheme should be extended to also include post-secondary and tertiary students. 

“While it may be costly, it will probably prove to be more cost-effective in the long run,” Bonello told MaltaToday, claiming that such a scheme would kill two birds with one stone – easing traffic congestion and preventing school bus bullying. 

The proposal was included in a White Paper recently released by the Education Ministry that aims to find ways through which school logistics can reduce traffic congestion. 

If the government decides to go down that route for state schools, it can only do so from the 2018/19 scholastic year, as it is bound by five contracts with transport service providers entered into by the previous government in 2011. 

The contracts, which have no termination clauses, cost the state €7.87 million in the 2014/15 scholastic year and the cost is estimated to increase. 

Bonello admitted that he doesn’t understand why the previous administration had signed these contracts in the first place, and has called for an investigation into them. 

However, he said that the real problem with regard to parents driving their children to school, rather than opting for school transport, lies with private schools. 

“While state schools service children from their own localities, independent and church schools incorporate students from all around the island, meaning that their school bus drivers have to pick up students from widespread areas,” he explained. “Therefore, a student from Wied il-Ghajn who attends San Anton School could have to spend up to two hours on the school bus as it picks up students from the district, as well as in Cottonera, and drives to Mgarr. 

“This means that he will have to wake up as early as 4am, and it is simply far more convenient for his parents to drive him to school. A free public transport pass could solve this problem.” 

The White Paper also proposes supervision on board school transport as a means of clamping down on school bus bullying. However, the MUT has warned that it will adamantly condemn forcing teachers to supervise students on buses, with the exception of transport for disabled children that is already in force. 

“A free public transport pass could solve the school bus bullying problem, via surveillance by other passengers,” Bonello argued. 

While the White Paper only recommends a subsidised bus pass for secondary school students, Bonello thinks that it should be extended to include post-secondary and tertiary students. 

“A free bus pass will encourage tertiary students to catch a bus to school, rather than use their cars, therefore reducing traffic congestion and solving the university’s notorious parking problem.

“The subsidisation of tertiary students is not an alien concept, and they already receive stipends and student grants, so why shouldn’t they also receive free bus passes?” 

The Malta Chamber of Commerce dismissed the White Paper as a “knee-jerk reaction” to Malta’s traffic problem, specifically highlighting its proposal that heavy vehicles should not coincide with the heavy morning traffic time. 

“The lifeline of Malta’s business community deserves more than one line in a 14-page document,” the Chamber said in a statement. “The problem of traffic congestion will not be solved by passing the parcel from one sector to the other. Malta deserves a holistic plan for transportation which includes an efficient public transport system, a European road network and better observance of traffic laws by all involved, in order for traffic to flow more smoothy.”