They are the necessary evil. You can’t live with or without them. The school van operator, who comes to pick your child each morning, may be part of a racket that exploits residents, throwing safety norms and regulations to the wind.
Although they appear as an unorganised sector for an outsider, they operate in a monolithic manner.
The private players have their fixed area of operation and they do not allow any new entrant in the business. They set the terms and conditions and charge according to their whims and fancies.
About 10,000 private school vans and three-wheelers, which ferry around one lakh school students every day, rule the roost in Gurgaon and remain unanswerable about the money they charge from parents or the number of children they stuff into the vehicles.
More importantly, the vehicle owners do not pay any heed to safety guidelines leaving children at their mercy.
The lives of students are at risk as majority of these vehicles are fitted with unauthorised LPG or CNG kits.
Neither do these vehicles have the mandatory speed governors which prevent speeding by the driver.
Apart from this, the vans and autos do not have basic safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher and first-aid box. The drivers are not trained and these vans are often overloaded with students.
But authorities remain a mute spectator as the illegal operators call the shots. This otherwise unregulated and unorganised sector is well governed by the mafia that sets the rules and monopolises the entire game.
Almost all the Maruti Suzuki vans are registered as passenger cars but ply as commercial vehicles and the government and police remains helpless.
“You cannot even think of arguing with the van operator who comes to pick up your child. As no other operator would flout his area of functioning, you have no option but to apologise and continue with the same vendor if you want the cab services,” said a hapless parent.
In January, a one-day strike by operators to oppose the police move of restricting the number of passengers to nine children resulted in complete mayhem. Thousands of parents and students were harassed and the outcome was that the van mafia hiked its rates by 100%.
“They are charging as per their wishes. If the police department strictly enforces the high court guidelines, the brunt again falls on parents as the van mafia immediately revises the rates. And authorities are helpless as there is no tariff plan,” said a resident.
Parents rued that they are helpless as most couples are working these days and picking the child from school or the bus-stop in the afternoon is not possible. Operators know and exploit this fact. There are only 800 registered school buses in the city while nearly 10,000 privately owned vans are doing brisk business. Meanwhile, operators do not seem to believe that competition improves quality of service.
Yashbir Singh, a resident of Chakkarpur village, owns eight vans and covers the DLF- Phase 2 area.
He ferries students of DAV Public School, Delhi Public School and Ryan International School.
“We work as a group. If somebody approaches me for Sushant Lok, I inform my counterpart. I would not go and start picking up that child. Our work territory is fixed and nobody interferes in another person's area,” he said.
Dimple Rana, who owns five vans, said, “We revise rates after a collective decision. There is no fixed tariff but we certainly charge less than what schools do plus we pick and drop the child right from his/her doorstep, sparing parents of the bother.”