By Carlena Knight
With just 10 days to go until the official opening of the country’s schools, the school bus unit has rolled out its plans for the academic year.
Arif Jonas, network manager at the government’s motor pool, spoke exclusively to Observer and shared that there will be some changes to the protocols that were in place when school buses were transporting fifth form and CAPE students.
In May, students were not allowed to enter the buses without masks and without sanitising their hands. A limit of 12 passengers was set for the coaster buses and the windows for those buses were to remain open. But with this new school year, Jonas revealed that there will be some minor changes ahead.
The main one is the number of passengers allowed to travel.
“We will be transporting more students then the 12 we were transporting before. We will not however be transporting the full capacity of the bus; we are looking at about 20 to 25 students per bus,” said Jonas.
He continued, “We have implemented a new sanitary programme that a professional sanitising agency will be doing our buses, and the agent that is being left inside the bus is completely safe; it is used in surgical theatres and so forth. It actually stays on the surface and continues to kill viruses and germs for up to five days so our buses will be sanitised that way every Sunday.
“Our conductors will, on a daily basis before each trip, before the buses load each time, sanitise the main areas – the grab handle when you are entering the bus and the main entrance of the door.”
He admits that there will have to be more policing by the conductors as well to ensure that the younger students abide by these protocols.
Regarding the routes, Jonas noted that there have not been any amendments. Jonas said officials will not have a true understanding in how to deploy buses until the third week of school.
He called on school principals to reach out and share their information with the motor pool to avoid hiccups.
There has been some dialogue, Jonas confirmed, but he is asking for increased outreach, patience, and a stronger relationship with all school heads.
“I have reached out to the Ministry of Education to let them know that if parents or principals need me to come to the schools during a PTA, I am available. I have met with two sets of principals so far, and once I am called, I show up.
“We have been able to iron out a few concerns, but not every single one that has been brought up has been resolved. It is really going to be a lot of work as we go along to really monitor the situation and to tweak it, because we just don’t know what to expect.
“The one thing I know for sure is that our buses are normally ram-packed, and so we have tweaked some of our schedules, changed the times that some of our staff are coming into work so that we can deploy persons to assist other zones or other areas that have had overloads over the years,” said Jonas.
Regarding the acquisition of two electronic buses, Jonas thanked the Italian government for its help in acquiring them.
“I have personally been a part of that electronic school bus project from its onset. We have been working on getting these buses since 2017. For me personally it’s a success story for something that I have been working on, along with the Department of Environment, so I am personally hoping that we see more electric school buses being put into service here in Antigua,” he said.
He further divulged that with the addition of the electrical buses, they have also garnered six regular buses. With this increase, a number of drivers were also added.
Jonas noted that these buses will however be deployed depending on the level of demand in specific areas.