After heavy e-Challans, fines, and the ‘seatbelt law’, school vehicle operators are now facing the crisis of rapidly increasing CNG prices. Currently, the rate of CNG in different parts of Maharashtra ranges from Rs 67 in Dhule to Rs 115 in Nagpur, with the price in Mumbai hitting its all-time high at Rs 89.50. Operators are startled by the CNG price hike, but can’t increase their fees for school students.
“We have no other option but to burn our pockets with the fuel prices increasing. Half the year has passed and we have to wait until the beginning of the next academic year to increase our fares. We can’t do that in the middle of the year, unlike these auto rickshaws and taxi operators,” said Shahid Shaikh, Joint Treasurer, Mumbai Bus Malak Sangathan (MBMS). He further decried the unaffordable fuel prices in several parts of the state. He added that in order to increase the fares, school bus operators have to send a detailed report to school authorities mentioning the reason for their price hike, at the beginning of an academic year.
Commenting on the incessantly increasing costs of CNG, Shahid further said, “At the time of elections, the rates are reduced, but once the elections pass, rates again start to increase. We’re helpless at this point in time.”
Several parents understand the situation and have no objections if the school vehicles’ fares rise, while some assert that the fares should remain the same.
Gurmeet Singh, a parent from Malad, said, “School bus and van operators are prey to inflation. When the price of CNG increases rapidly, the operators should also be thought of. They should not be prohibited from hiking their fares. My son travels daily to a school that is quite far from our home and being a garage owner, I know that the costs for these operators increase too with the CNG rates rising.” He also stated that he has no objections to the bus fare being increased.
On the other hand, Sheila Mehta, a 12-year-old’s parent from Byculla said that living in a city like Mumbai is too difficult with the unending inflation. She reiterated that coming from a middle-class family, she is barely able to afford her child’s educational expenses. “With that, if the bus operators bring up their rates, it will be difficult for people like us. How would we manage our expenses? Because we can’t even stop taking their service knowing how far my child’s school is,” she decried.